'Back to 1984' as school ditches open plan classroom

Bruce Kearney is looking forward to opening Rangiora High School’s new whare. Photo: North...
Bruce Kearney is looking forward to opening Rangiora High School’s new whare. Photo: North Canterbury News / David Hill
A Canterbury high school has ditched its large open plan classroom, opting instead to return "back to 1984'' - but with a modern twist.

When it opened in 2017, Rangiora High School's Rakahuri building was thought to be the largest classroom in the South Island.

It has now been refurbished with single-cell classrooms ready for term two.

While it may not be a step back in time to 1984, there are similarities about the refurbishment to principal Bruce Kearney's school days.

''It was incredibly unique when it opened. At the time open learning was talked about a lot, but the reality is our community and our parents are excited about having single-cell classrooms back.

''The building makes sense now and we can use it for its intended purpose - for learning.''

The school conducted a comprehensive review of its curriculum last year. A resulting report recommended sweeping changes, with the biggest transformation involving installing internal walls in the Rakahuri building.

The school library has been moved into the Rakahuri building so it can be at the centre of the school.

''It provides a communal space where students can sit and read a book, just as we did in 1984,'' Kearney said.

The old library building, which was built in 1972 with a flat roof, was leaking and poorly insulated. It will now be used as an exam centre.

The Rakahuri building refurbishment has cost more than $1 million, with the board of trustees paying one-third, the Ministry of Education paying one-third and the balance coming from the school's 10-year property budget.

It will continue to have a capacity for up to 500 students, with a mix of single-cell classrooms, breakout spaces, its own indoor stadium and science labs at the far end.

Double-glazed windows mean the classrooms are ''deadly silent'' when the door is closed.

''It still has an open feel with the cross roads, but what is really great with it is we can lock the classrooms and let the students use the open spaces,'' Kearney said.

The refurbishment is one of several building projects, including a new whare, a workshop and a proposed performing arts centre.

The $1.2 million, multi-purpose Te Whare Mātauranga (house of learning) is being fully funded by the board of trustees.

''It is a whare which is also a teaching space and we have connected with Ngāi Tūāhuriri right from the beginning,'' Kearney said.

Bruce Kearney (left) chats to former Kaiapoi High School building teacher Peter Graham, who has...
Bruce Kearney (left) chats to former Kaiapoi High School building teacher Peter Graham, who has been helping to set up the new Rangiora High School building classroom. Photo: North Canterbury News / David Hill
The new building has an ''imposing'' frontage, and will be used for cultural and community events.

The school has a new purpose-built workshop for its building class.

Kearney said the popular class has students enrolling for a two-year course in years 11 and 12. Students will be engaged in landscaping around the new building, with other projects around the school being lined up.

A new performing arts centre to replace the school hall is also in the pipeline, with the school hoping to partner with the Waimakariri District Council to build a state-of-the-art community facility.

''We have a hall which is not really that fit for purpose,'' Kearney said.

''We think it (a performing arts centre) would be of benefit to the school, the community and the council.''

By David Hill, Local Democracy Reporter

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.