Abandoned Kiwi schools - taxpayers pick up hefty maintenance tab
Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are being used to maintain abandoned schools.
Over the last two years, more than $670,000 was spent on 59 abandoned sites across New Zealand.
Some have sat unused for more than a decade, while others have been abandoned more recently. Lynton Downs, for instance, was forced to close this year following the Kaikoura earthquake.
And despite the fact that half of the sites are in line to be sold or repurposed, it could be several years before that process is finalised.
The land and buildings are worth $85 million.
The highest annual rent paid for a site was $104,000 by a film company, which used the former Miramar South School site in Wellington as a car park.
In the Waikato, close to $100,000 has been spent maintaining eight school sites between July 2015 and April 2017.
The oldest, Taupo's Mokai School, closed in 1999 but it is currently tenanted.
In April, a series of Stuff articles stated that the old Richmond Park School in Hamilton, with a capital value of $2.5 million, would be subdivided and then landbanked or sold off.
News of the "ghost school" and its potential sale shocked city councillors, who fired off a "please explain" to the Ministry of Education.
Councillors asked Education Minister Nikki Kaye to press pause while they consulted the Bader and Melville communities on what should happen to the site.
A meeting will now be planned, involving the Ministry of Education, Hamilton City Council west ward councillors and Melville Community House representatives.
Labour Party education spokesman Chris Hipkins said it's frustrating that the process for disposing of school sites takes so long.
"They often end up being vandalised and in some cases pose safety risks," Hipkins said.
"I would definitely like to see the process sped up."
He said governments need to take care when closing schools to ensure they're not needed again, but also said the sites offered an opportunity to free up surplus Crown land for housing.
"Although we need to take care to ensure that doing so doesn't then increase the need for schools and early childhood services that the building of those very houses has removed the capacity for us to provide."
Hangatiki School in the King Country is on the list of vacated sites. It shut in 2012.
Waitomo District Mayor Brian Hanna said it was the best thing to do at the time, as the school roll had declined.
"There were three schools all within 10 minutes of each other - Te Kuiti, Waitomo and Otorohanga - so it wasn't a big loss," Hanna said.
"The biggest concern was what would be done with the asset, but there is an organisation there which will be there long-term," he said, referring to the site's tenants.
Education Ministry head of infrastructure Kim Shannon said the closed school sites represent a small portion of the ministry's property portfolio.
"The timeframe of the disposal process can vary considerably. It generally takes 19 to 40 months for sites to complete the disposal process."
Shannon said the ministry manages around 2100 schools.
"Annually, we invest $550 million to upgrade and modernise existing schools and spend on average $250 to $300 million on new schools."
Once a site is closed, the ministry takes ownership and considers if it can be used for other education purposes, if it can be held on to for future use, or whether it's not needed.
If the site is surplus, it is handed over to Land Information New Zealand, which can then lease the site or go through the process of selling it, which includes offering the land back to local iwi.