Demand quantified for private school

At least four sites have already been identified as having the potential to house a private, independent school in Queenstown, with backers saying they had a "groundswell" of support.

Wentworth College principal Bruce Tong told the Otago Daily Times yesterday he and Wentworth Property's Stephen Fleming had yet to speak to landowners about the possibility of establishing a private school in the resort, but there were "a number of sites that have potential".

Those included land at Jacks Point, near Millbrook, behind Queenstown Airport and near Coronet Peak Station.

Mr Tong and Mr Fleming, both of Auckland, and Arrowtown's Lisa Guy addressed about 50 people in the resort on Wednesday night, explaining the ethos behind a private school, while also gauging interest and support.

The trio said there was not opposition to Wakatipu High School - the only secondary schooling option in Queenstown - as their proposal was about giving parents a choice in Queenstown for secondary education.

"Wakatipu High School is a fantastic school, it's not about competition," Mr Tong said.

"It's about choice - having parents having an array of options for their children.

"Very few people at Wentworth can write a cheque for $15,000 a year; most mums and dads work really hard to pay fees."

For the proposal to be viable there needed to be a site available, resource consents in place and "100 fee-paying pupils on day one," Mr Tong said.

Based on Wednesday night's meeting, public feedback and the identification of potential sites, Mr Tong believed there was a case for a private school in the Wakatipu.

Feedback had also been received from many expats living overseas, for example in the Cayman Islands, who said they would move back to the resort if a private school went ahead.

"There is a groundswell of people looking for different options in education and a concern about the number of children living in the district; the statistics were very revealing.

"The growth, I believe, would be higher than that.

"There seems to be an opportunity there for a private school or a like-minded school [and] a private school could be built quicker than a ministry one."

Once consents were in place, Wentworth College could be constructed and ready to open in four months. The most recently opened school in the Wakatipu, the $17.3 million Remarkables Primary, took almost 10 months to construct.

Mr Tong said regardless of a private school, the Ministry of Education still needed to address issues in Queenstown, either by moving the high school to a different site, or opening a second one to address future demand.

Survey figures
Independent School Survey for Queenstown results to date. -
• 45 respondents.
• 95% support a private school for Queenstown.
• 93.1% said "yes" to fee estimates
• 94% have listed academic achievement as a primary objective. Most support a sunny site away from Queenstown Airport, within 10 minutes' drive of Frankton, on a large enough site to allow for growth.

Average fees for private schools in New Zealand. -
• Preschool: $8000 a year.
• Primary school: $10,000 a year.
• Secondary school: $15,000 a year.
Kings College, in Auckland, is the most expensive private secondary school in New Zealand, charging $21,000 a year in fees, with boarding fees additional.

Queenstown Plunket Statistics, children aged 0-4
• 2006: 931.
• 2007: 1047 (12% increase).
• 2008: 1380 (9% increase).

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