1493183975513 - Full-to-bursting Witherlea School receives unexpected $500,000 for new rooms

Full-to-bursting Witherlea School receives unexpected $500,000 for new rooms

A Blenheim school was preparing to pay for new classrooms when the Ministry of Education stumped up $500,000 for the new build.

Witherlea School has struggled with its growing roll for years, prompting the school board to plan two new classrooms using a mixture of board reserves and ministry money. 

However, the ministry has announced it will cover the cost of the whole project. 

Board of trustees chairman Neil Sinclair said he was not sure why the ministry, which allocated funding in “weird and wonderful ways”, had changed its mind.

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“We certainly need it, we are delighted,” he said. 

Sinclair said he thought the ministry had originally declined to fund the total amount of the classrooms based on the population information in the 2013 census, but had more up-to-date information about the growing number of young children in Blenheim. 

Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye said in a statement the ministry wanted to help Witherlea School cope with its growth. 

Ministry head of infrastructure service Kim Shannon said since drawing up preliminary plans for the building the school had worked closely with the Ministry to manage its roll.

Witherlea School, close to the Forest Park and Boulevard Park on Taylor subdivisions, was at capacity with about 430 pupils, but by the end of the year it was predicted to have at least 460. 

The new classrooms, contained in one two-storey building, were expected to be operational next year, Sinclair said. 

The tender process for construction work had been completed, and the school had full control over the design of the classrooms, which would be “modern learning environments”. 

Last year the new building was expected to cost only $300,000. Sinclair would not reveal how much of that would have been paid for by the school, and how much would have been provided by the ministry. 

Since the roll was expected to increase by the end of this year, Sinclair said he predicted there would also be funding allocated for new staff at the beginning of 2018. 

New rooms did not necessarily mean new staff, as the ministry had “weird and wonderful ways” of allocating funding, he said. 

Other new classrooms around the country had been more expensive, with $900,000 provided to Waikanae School earlier this month for two new classrooms, and $1.6 million given to an Auckland school for three new classrooms. 

Marlborough Primary Schools Association president Tania Pringle said population growth was causing ongoing issues for almost all schools in Blenheim, despite Springlands School and Witherlea School altering their zones last year.

“I would say just about all schools in the area are suffering some sort of increase or pressure.” 

Whitney Street School, in Blenheim, was also about to receive two new classrooms, Kaye said.

Whitney Street principal Cheryl Wadworth said construction was expected to start this term. She declined to say how much funding the school had been given.