The old Warrengate Private Hospital was bought by MAGS a year ago and will soon offer flatting accommodation to teachers.
Mt Albert Grammar School’s plans for a boarding house for girls has been put on hold for a little longer – and in-demand teachers facing big city rents will be the beneficiaries.
The school bought the old Warrengate Private Hospital in Lloyd Ave (which at the time was owned and operated by addiction treatment centre Odyssey) a year ago and intended to turn it into a girls’ hostel.
But the projected renovation costs became a major obstacle and now contractors are working on a less costly revamp to accommodate around 10 teachers.
The school’s vision is still to provide a hostel for out-of-town female students, but it has been put on the back-burner for a year or two.
By the time MAGS celebrates its centenary in 2022, however, headmaster Patrick Drumm is confident there will be a hostel for girls to match the vision shown in 1927 when a boys’ boarding house was set up in New North Rd (within the present Alice Wylie Reserve) and moved in 1970 to the Alberton Ave grounds.
Today, about 100 boys board at the school and their parents pay an all-inclusive fee of $12,850 (including GST) a year, plus an initial “placement fee” of $1000.
The original plan at Lloyd Ave was to provide accommodation for 25-35 girls, supervised by a matron, and Mr Drumm says it drew huge interest – “we could have filled it three or four times over”.
But compliance requirements and costs for a full “best practice” renovation ran very high and, because of the lead-in time needed to allow parents to plan, the school decided that opening a boarding house for girls for the 2018 school year wasn’t going to be possible.
Instead, as a response to the staff recruitment and retention difficulties faced by all secondary schools, the board and headmaster opted for staff accommodation.
Mr Drumm says the building (covering about 700sq m) is “fantastic – very, very nice” and only limited refurbishing is needed to open it up as living quarters for 10 teachers, with private bedrooms and sharing – like a huge flat – lounge, bathroom and kitchen facilities.
The teachers will move in around May, paying a lower rent than elsewhere… and enjoy the luxury of a six-minute walk to school.
For the school, the $3,420,000 investment – funded from a combination of reserves, along with support from the wider Mt Albert community and some additional borrowings – was significant. But it is a big lump of land with a commercial zoning in a residential area and the value will surely continue to rise over the years.
Mr Drumm makes the point that “everything is reviewable” and it is possible the property may in the future be sold to fund a girls’ hostel.
“But it is an asset for the school and gives us a lot of options – it would be great to hold on to it. We are a state school and not in the property investment business, but to have that asset in Mt Albert is really unique.”
The school has longstanding connections with many families, and sisters of boys at School House are boarding at Epsom Girls’ Grammar, for example, because there isn’t yet a female facility at Mt Albert.
“We’d love to be able to accommodate them, and that is the vision,” says the headmaster. “As we approach our centenary, girls are making such a mark on MAGS and there is a need for equity.”
Take it as read that, despite the initial hiccup at Lloyd Ave, a girls’ hostel for MAGS is coming sooner rather than later.