1492913636897 - Ghost school: Hamilton school buildings sit vacant for 13 years
Education

Ghost school: Hamilton school buildings sit vacant for 13 years

Aluminium rain guttering dangles from the dilapidated school building.

Wooden chairs and desks are piled in the corner of a classroom, gathering dust and longing for bums on seats.

The sound of cackling children has been replaced with the tinkle of beer bottles strewn across the concrete yard.

No playtime bells have rung out at Hamilton’s Richmond Park School for 13 years – yet the taxpayer is still funding its upkeep.

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Nestled on the corner of Bader St and Pine Ave, the school was once home to 200 children from the neighbouring Bader and Melville suburbs.

But it closed in 2004 after the roll dropped to 80 children – it was considered no longer viable.

The Ministry of Education paid $4000 on maintenance for the school since July 2016.

There was no current value for the site but in 2011, it had a rateable valuation of $1.95 million. In that same year, the government paid $18,571 on maintenance. The Ministry offered no indication of any future plans for the site.

The school had several successes to its credit, said former principal Jackie Woodland.

She said Richmond Park was the first school in the city to establish a rumaki (Māori immersion unit).

“We had so many families in the area and lots and lots of children,” Woodland said.

“But the dynamic started to change; less families moved in and more elderly people moved into the area.

“When the school closed, it was at a time when the government was closing smaller schools to save money.”

Richmond Park opened in 1959. Woodland was the head of the school for ten years and before her, husband Barry Maughan held that position. 

Woodland went on to other teaching roles and was principal of Maihiihi School in Otorohanga. She is now an education consultant for her iwi, Ngāti Whakaue, and her husband has retired. 

She still keeps in touch with former students and boasts about how successful some of them have been.

“I had some of the most polite and well-mannered children,” Woodland said.

“One is a top oral hygienist, one is a doctor, another works for a media company … there are so many success stories.

“We had a strong Māori community back then. The families were always willing to chip in at school galas and do baking. You don’t see too many galas these days.”

The future of the site is under “consideration”, the ministry says. However, some of the classrooms have been utilised by kōhanga reo.

Two kōhanga reo occupy a block of classrooms on the site – Te Kōhanga Reo o Whanaungatanga and Te Kōhanga Reo o Te Rapa, said the ministry’s deputy secretary Kim Shannon.

“Their leases have recently expired and we are currently re-negotiating a lease with Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust which would ensure they can continue to operate on the site with certainty,” Shannon said.

Bader St resident Hayley Ward said she takes her two-year-old son Varraconn to play on his bike at the empty site.

“It’s a waste not to use it,” Ward said.

“They should have something for the kids there, if not another school, then something for the kids or the community to use.

“I’ve checked out the site and it’s a perfect spot to have a market. Oh, and did you see the big pool?”

The pool Ward referred to was at the back of the classrooms next to the school field.

The weeds had started to seep in where once there was water. The paint, although chipped, revealed it was once a pastel blue colour.

But it was deep enough to do bombs and sturdy enough to cater for the neighbourhood kids during the humid Hamilton summers.

Woodland said at the time Richmond Park closed, every child had been placed in a nearby school, mainly Melville Primary.

“It was not viable to keep it open, I understood that,” she said.

“But it was a great school in a great community.”