Surging rolls create headaches

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Watch this space: Shotover Primary School principal Ben Witheford PICTURE: OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Queenstown’s two newest schools are drawing up expansion plans to cope with exponential roll growth.

Shotover Primary’s roll has grown nearly five-fold since it opened in 2015, while the number of pupils at Remarkables Primary School has increased 10-fold since it opened for year 1 and 2 pupils partially completed in 2010.

As the resort continues to expand to the east and south across former farmland, the two schools are moving from one building project to the next to stay ahead of the influx of young families.

Shotover Primary principal Ben Witheford says construction of a new teaching space would begin in about a fortnight. When the building opened next April or May, it would increase the school’s capacity by about 200 pupils to 650.

Witheford says the new build is part of the master plan, but had been brought forward by about a year because of roll growth.

The school opened in 2015 with 88 pupils, and would end the year with about 425, close to its current capacity of 450.

He had always expected the roll to grow, but not quite so quickly.

“To be five times our opening size within two and a-half years was probably not anticipated by anybody.”

The Ministry of Education had just confirmed $2 million funding for further capital works at the school, which meant another expansion would probably start in about two years, taking capacity to 750.

Remarkables Primary principal Debbie Dickson says the ministry is working on plans to expand her school beyond the peak roll envisaged in its original master plan.

The roll was expected to reach 620 by the end of the year, close to its capacity of about 630.

However, several large-scale residential developments are under way or about to start inside its zone.

“We’ve got the biggest area of growth at the moment about to happen.

“There’s Hanley’s Farm opening, there’s development in Kelvin Heights and apartments planned for Five Mile and at Remarkables Park.”

The expansion plans were not in the school’s master plan, but had become necessary because of continuing high roll growth.

Although she could not reveal details, the new build was “not going to impact on the footprint”, Dickson says.

The school had some rare breathing space after taking over the neighbouring former Frankton Playcentre building in May, she says.

That had been converted into teaching space equivalent to two classrooms, and went into use earlier this month.

“We’re OK at the present time, which is nice for us for a change — we’re usually on the back foot.”

Witheford says rapid roll growth and the district’s high living costs were making the recruitment of teachers and support staff “challenging”.

“I can’t pay staff bonuses because they live in a high-cost area. A teacher teaching here earns exactly the same as they do if teaching in Gisborne or Kaitaia or Bluff, so that makes it quite hard to staff.”

Unless the area’s schools and local and central government were proactive about the problem, the next three or four years were going to be a “struggle for the community”.

He has spoken to the ministry and others about incentive payments or bonuses for staff, but “nobody seems interested in entertaining that solution”.

Dickson says even finding relieving teachers when permanent staff are ill or undergoing professional development is difficult.

She expects staff recruitment and retention to get even harder in the next few years, and Wakatipu Basin schools were working collectively to push for more assistance, she says.

Otago Daily Times