A zone change is on the way for Mt Albert Grammar – close to bursting at the seams as one of the country’s biggest secondary schools.
But this change shouldn’t cause any distress to in-zone parents or those who have bought property in the present zone hoping their children will go the 3000-roll school in the future.
The school board of trustees is taking the first steps to exclude the Unitec land from the MAGS zone after the Government announcement last month that it will build 3000-4000 homes on 28ha it has bought from the tertiary institution.
Headmaster Patrick Drumm would only say the board has resolved “to begin the consultation process about excluding the Unitec Campus from the school zone”,
The Unitec block has always been part of the MAGS zone, but it has never had an impact because no children live there.
However the prospect of a whole new town rising over the next seven or eight years – with a potential population of perhaps 10,000 people – has led the school to start the process to amend its existing zone, cutting out the land.
That will relieve parents who live within the existing zone and who might have worried that accommodating Unitec families could force the school to contract its boundaries elsewhere. But it will mean the Unitec kids of the future will head west to Avondale College rather than east to MAGS.
The step to amend the zone should be a mere formality. Gladstone School, with over 900 pupils and a growing in-zone population, was in the same position and was given permission by the Education Ministry last year to cut out the Unitec block.
The ministry said then, shortly after the coalition Government was formed, that it expected the Unitec land (surplus to its own needs as it contracts the education precinct into 10ha of the 55ha block) to “yield up to 500 students over the next 15 years”.
It made those projections on the basis of the then-planned private development of up to 3000 terraced houses and apartments, and the Government deal may stretch those numbers if the project hits the high point of 4000 units.
After the Government announcement, the ministry held its ground and insisted there is no need for a new school within the Unitec project, though Housing Minister Phil Twyford and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have publicly questioned that position.
With rolls of most local schools at their highs – and neighbouring schools also stretched – the feeling in general education circles is that a new school may be needed before too much longer in the central-west area where population growth is ramping up.
If, or when, that happens, zones of other schools will no doubt be pulled in
The Unitec land was seen by many as the perfect opportunity to build a new school in an area of growth to future-proof the education sector against the rising rolls of a burgeoning city.
But the ministry, managing a tight budget, has a different view: it thinks existing schools, beefed up with more classrooms, can cope with the demand. With that model, playground space is the inevitable loser.
If there is to be no school on the Unitec land, where will the kids go?
As Katrina Casey, the ministry’s deputy secretary of sector enablement and support, told Mt Albert Inc: “Future urban growth as a result of the Unitec development can be accommodated by Waterview School, Avondale Intermediate and Avondale College which are reasonably convenient. Avondale College currently enrols a large number of students from outside its zone and will be able to manage its out of zone enrolments in order to cater for growth.”
Next week: The MAGS headmaster – and the ministry – on managing a roll and maintaining traditions.