Erosion will force school relocation: report

An aerial view from this year shows coastal erosion encroaching towards Waitaki Boys’ High School...
An aerial view from this year shows coastal erosion encroaching towards Waitaki Boys’ High School grounds. PHOTO: GOOGLE MAPS
Coastal erosion could wash away trees protecting Waitaki Boys’ High School grounds within a decade and will likely eventually require the school to relocate further inland, a Ministry of Education-commissioned report reveals.

The Ministry of Education has met with Waitaki Boys’ High School representatives to discuss the development of a long-term plan to tackle coastal erosion at the school.

Last month’s talks were based on a report by engineering firm Beca forecasting the coastline could begin washing away trees bordering the school’s playing fields within 10 years and could require the school, including the historic Hall of Memories building, to relocate in five decades.

In a joint statement, the ministry and the school said the safety and wellbeing of pupils was of "paramount importance".

"Together, we are actively developing a comprehensive plan to ensure their protection", the statement said.

The report outlined cliff erosion that has already impacted the school grounds and infrastructure and detailed likely future impacts.

The shoreline in front of the school was eroding at a rate of 40cm each year.

All existing school buildings were at least 90m inland of the 2021 shoreline.

The heritage-listed Hall of Memories building was 170m from the 2021 shoreline.

The coastal edge of the playing field was 24m from the shoreline.

Aerial photos taken over several years show how the coastline is being eaten away, already nearing the trees nearest the sea.

According to the specialist assessments, it would be more than a century before any of the school buildings were directly impacted by this erosion.

The Beca report revealed the school’s sports and playing fields would potentially be affected by erosion between the 2030s and 2070s and that steps needed to be taken in the next decade.

The tree shelter belt and playing field would be incrementally lost, with the trees potentially lost over the next 10-60 years exposing the playing fields.

The erosion the school was facing was consistent with the challenges experienced by the rest of the Waitaki district coastline, including three other hot spots identified in a 2019 Niwa report.

A long-term adaptive management strategy plan was recommended by Beca to be developed by the school in conjunction with the ministry.

Ministry and school representatives said "this plan will encompass various measures to safeguard students and provide a secure learning environment".

"We remain committed to ensuring the safety and educational wellbeing of our students for generations to come".

The long-term plan would include proactively planning for inland relocation of the school, probably in 50 to 100 years time, if required — "[particularly] the relocation of the heritage-listed Hall of Memories and other school structures", the report stated.

Some of the other measures outlined in the report included no new buildings or infrastructure east of the gymnasium, except for shelterbelts or maintaining fencing and stormwater drainage outlets.

Ongoing site management would be necessary to maintain fence lines and vegetation barriers to protect pupils and staff from hazardous areas around the cliff top.

Erosion would be monitored regularly and erosion estimates updated every five to 10 years as well as after exceptional storm or erosion events.

The report recommended the clifftop be monitored relative to fixed points, such as the gymnasium, F Block and the Hall of Memories building.

Ministry and the school representatives said "we will continue to closely monitor the situation’s progression, working with local authorities and experts".