Campus crunch

Wakatipu High’s likely to have to bring in more relocatable classrooms till a second, and...
Wakatipu High’s likely to have to bring in more relocatable classrooms till a second, and possibly third, secondary school’s developed. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Ministry of Education caught short by Wakatipu High roll explosion

The squeeze is on.

Wakatipu High School (WHS) will almost inevitably require temporary classrooms — again — to cope when it hits its readjusted capacity only two or three years from now.

Early this week, the school’s roll was 1459 — up 41% from just 1034 in 2020.

This means it’s edging closer to its new top-end roll of 1625, which it’s expecting to reach in 2027.

Originally, the school’s second-phase build, at its Remarkables Park campus, was to allow it to accommodate 1800 students.

However that lower figure was agreed after discussions with the Ministry of Education (MoE) last year.

Originally, WHS had also hoped the MoE would have selected a new school site by now, however still nothing’s been confirmed.

And, even if it buys some land this year, it could be many years before the new school’s designed, let alone built.

Principal Oded Nathan says it took the MoE 10 years from when it chose the Remarks Park site till the school extension opened last year.

"The ministry has been trying to obtain land for a second high school, which most people know about, but that seems to be slow-going, and, really, we haven’t had an update on how that’s progressed in close to a year now."

Board chair Adrian Januskiewicz adds: "They’re just saying all the negotiations they’re in the middle of, at the moment, are confidential and commercially sensitive, so [they] couldn’t really talk to us very much about that."

All WHS can do, he says, is "try and influence as strongly as we can the outcomes of whatever the longer-term solution is, but we’re being really driven by that process as opposed to being the drivers of that process".

He’s confident the MoE’s fully aware of Queenstown’s huge population growth curve, however he’s concerned it faces capital constraints, "so whatever dollars they do have go to the most screaming needs".

Given it’s been likely for a while WHS will need temporary classrooms to continue running, he and Nathan reveal they tried to convince the MoE to keep the 17 they used while phase two of the school build was going on.

Januskiewicz: "We told them not to take them away but they said there was a more pressing need."

Nathan: "We presented our roll projections kind of over the course of the last three years and said, ‘you’re going to take them away and you’re going to bring them back"’.

Ironically, 11 only went as far as Queenstown Primary, where they’re being converted into permanent classrooms.

Januskiewicz says the concern is the MoE tends to take last-minute action when short-term solutions are needed, "to put a finger in the dyke, if you like".

"Because they’re dealing with a lot of short-term problems around the country, you really only get into that process once you’re getting close to crisis point.

"So, even at 1450, we’re not in that process yet.

"That’s the part that’s a little concerning because it means the planning will be very last-minute."

Nathan says he’d not be happy about converting staffroom or library space into temp classrooms, as happens elsewhere, and he doesn’t want the temporary rooms to hog playing field space.

Despite these challenges, he’s confident the school can continue providing students with a high-quality, all-round education.

And Janusziewicz doesn’t want to ruffle MoE’s feathers as he’s hoping to work with it on short- and long-term solutions.

Ironically, despite all the focus on a second high school, and whether it’d be an adjunct of WHS or a stand-alone school, Nathan also points to looming growth in Queenstown’s southern corridor.

"There’s the possibility even a third high school would be in the region at some point."


‘Temporary teaching spaces possible’

Ministry of Education (MoE) has accepted it may well need to reinstate temporary classrooms at Wakatipu High, but, despite emailed questions, hasn’t shed any light on what stage it’s at regarding securing a new school site.

Nancy Bell, Hautu (leader), Te Tai Runga (south), states: "The ministry works closely with schools and kura to address capacity issues.

"In this case, a potential interim solution could involve temporary spaces located on to the Wakatipu High School (WHS) site.

"When the classrooms at WHS became vacant at the completion of the permanent expansion, it was decided to take the opportunity to replace the teaching spaces at Queenstown Primary School (QPS), which had reached the end of their life.

"The immediate need at QPS, along with other schools in Central Otago, outweighed the longer-term potential requirement at WHS.

"We will be working with Wakatipu High and the community during 2024 to develop a plan for responding to future demand for secondary schooling.

"In the meantime, we may need to provide temporary teaching spaces for WHS, the timing of which will depend on the rolls over the next two to three years."