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Ministry rebuild proposal 'devastating' for school

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2012
Whangamata Area School
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

BURNED: Whangamata Area School principal Ross Preece feels ‘‘let down’’ by the Ministry of Education after it recommended not to rebuild the school’s technology department that burnt down.

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The principal of a Coromandel school is "devastated" that the Government is recommending not to rebuild its technology block that was destroyed by fire.

A suspicious fire gutted the woodwork, metalwork and automotive workshops at Whangamata Area School on November 14, causing damage totalling close to $1 million.

Principal Ross Preece was told this week that the Ministry of Education had recommended not to rebuild the 750 square metre technology building.

Instead, the ministry intends to build a 260sqm replacement, about one third the size of the original.

"The community will be enraged and we're absolutely devastated that they are not coming to the party," Mr Preece said.

"At this stage it's a provisional decision, but to suggest that you're going to be able to teach metalwork, woodwork and automotive in a 260sqm space and have storage is just a nonsense."

The ministry reasoned that, because the school has "significant surplus capacity", it could not approve a complete rebuild due to restrictions around teaching spaces. However, Mr Preece said he cannot convert a standard classroom into a workshop.

If the ministry decided to construct a replica building on the existing foundations, estimated to be worth $300,000, it could be completed by term two next year.

However, if it went ahead with the recommended smaller building it would have to go through the full consent process and could take 18 months, Mr Preece said.

Ministry of Education policy manager Jerome Sheppard said the goal was to ensure the school had "adequate technology-related facilities".

"However, as the school has significant surplus capacity, the ministry needs to ensure that taxpayers' funds are spent appropriately."

He would not confirm whether any decision had been made.

Mr Preece said it was a "short-sighted" cost-cutting exercise by the ministry that would disadvantage students working towards a trade.

"On one hand, the minister has talked long and hard about skilled tradespeople within the community; we've been turning them out for a number of years . . . and now we're no longer going to be able to do that."

Insurance assessors had agreed to replace all of the equipment and machines, but Mr Preece said there would not be room in a 260sqm workshop.

A 17-year-old student from the school was charged with arson last month after an investigation established the cause of the fire was the reckless use of matches.

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- Waikato Times

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