Local school expansion awaits ministry nod

There is a sharp contrast between one section of Elim Christian College junior campus in Golflands that is buzzing with activity, while the other half of the property is in a state of disrepair.

FUTURE-PROOF: An architectural design plan for the relocation of Elim Christinan College to 159 Botany Road. Picture supplied.

Big containers, mounds of dirt and construction debris give the impression of building activity being suddenly stopped in its tracks.

Irked neighbours in the adjoining property to the school have drawn attention to the building material lying unused.

There could be health and safety issue, complained one of the neighbours to the Times.

On being contacted, Murray Burton, principal of Elim Christian College is honest about the stalled progress: “I understand it’s rather unsightly and my apologies to the neighbours,” he says.

The 2.5 ha of land where the junior campus now stands used to be soccer field that belonged to Auckland Council, he says.

“We leased the land from the Crown and with permission, built on it. However, after the first phase of development we were informed that we cannot continue with the next phase of expansion.”

The Ministry of Education is doing some number crunching and while Mr Burton says that being a former principal of State schools he well understands that “the Ministry first considers the numbers in State network. But as a state-integrated school we are a very different school with families choosing us because of our special character,” he emphasises.

Mr Burton takes pains to explain that increasing the roll of Elim Christian College to date hasn’t reduced numbers in existing State schools by any more than 2-3 per school.

The school has the intake data to prove it.

“We’ve currently got a waiting list of 400 students with addresses that want to enrol in our school but unfortunately, right now, there’s no space to accommodate them. We can only pay for the building if we take in 300-400 more students in our junior campus.”

The frustration is palpable since in 2011, Anne Tolley, the then Minister of Education, granted a roll increase to a maximum roll of 1000 to enable the Junior Campus to be constructed, accommodating years 0-8 students.

However, a subsequent roll increase application was turned down and the school is currently awaiting the nod again from Minister Hekia Parata, to start on the second phase of building that has been stalled for a while now.

“The school has been functioning at half its capacity and we hope to get the consent soon,” says Mr Burton.

“Recognising the beauty of Golflands, we didn’t want to build two-storey on the junior campus and the architect’s plans have only enhanced the suburb and its values. Our junior campus showcases a very modern learning environment and we are a good example of stewardship – our investment will save the government building costs of over $50m.”

In an attempt to future-proof the school, the proprietors have bought over an adjoining property at 159 Botany Road, where the senior college will relocate, allowing the church to expand.

The proposed new education facility for 850 senior students is on the 1.28 ha land at the corner of Botany and Cascades Road that is currently being used as a car park and a social service facility by the Elim Christian Church.

The school has also bought 2 ha of prime land at the Pakuranga Golf Club where they plan to have a purpose-built sports facility with an international hockey and soccer fields as well as tennis and netball courts.

But none of that is possible till they get permission to enrol more students at both the junior and senior colleges.

Currently, the senior campus from year 7-13 accommodates only 650 students whilst the junior campus has 320 students.

The college anxiously awaits the heads up from the Ministry of Education to increase the total roll to 1500 initially and then later to 1700 students, which in turn would pay for the expansion of the school.