Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Ministry of Education starts urgent cleanup at Panmure school

The Ministry of Education has started an urgent cleanup at Sommerville School in Panmure after hazardous building conditions hit headlines earlier this month.
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Local Democracy Reporting | Free Public Interest News Service

The Ministry of Education has started an urgent cleanup at Sommerville School in Panmure after images of mould, mushrooms, and leaky buildings hit headlines earlier this month.

School principal Belinda Johnston says the cleanup started two weeks ago after a public response to the school’s building crisis.

“Following the media intervention, we had a meeting with a group of people from the Ministry of Education and they committed to remediating the most urgent problems as soon as possible,” Johnston says.

She said progress has been quick since the meeting, but says “it only happened after all of the publicity”.

The school is based in Panmure but supports students by working with 15 other schools across eastern Auckland from Ōrākei Basin through to Maraetai, Johnston says.

“We haven’t got enough space. Everything’s crumbling. It’s not healthy.

“Just under 25 per cent of our students are Pasifika and around 15 per cent are Māori. That’s 40 per cent of our school, so it’s a significant portion who are being affected by all of this.”

Principal Belinda Johnston says mould and mushrooms growing inside buildings have been cleaned up by the Ministry of Education. Photo: Supplied

She says the school currently has two closed classrooms and has had to close its roll due to a lack of space for more learners.

A lack of maintenance has made existing problems worse, she says.

“They’ve become major issues by the beginning of this year, we had a flood due to really old plumbing. We had to close two classrooms, the bathrooms, the meeting room, the laundry, and then we had to find spaces for those learners in other areas of the school.”

In a statement sent to Local Democracy Reporting, Ministry of Education head of property Sam Fowler says: “The property at Sommerville School is in poor condition.”

Fowler adds, “we’ll continue to undertake further works to improve the condition of the buildings and funding for ongoing maintenance is in place to support the school while they continue to operate in these facilities.”

Sommerville School principal Belinda Johnston says the school is still waiting on a low-budget rebuild plan for the school. Photo: Supplied

Johnston says the immediate cleanup is to address surface-level issues and ongoing flood damage.

“Defogging and deep cleaning have been mentioned many times … getting everything clean and dry. Adding good ventilation for air flow, replacing floors and walls and furniture that’s been damaged,” Johnston says.

But she says urgent repairs won’t be enough to fix the school’s structural problems.

The school is still waiting on confirmation from the Ministry of Education about when the school will be rebuilt and if new plans will be fit for purpose considering central Government funding cuts.

“I think the Ministry of Education have always known that we needed urgent attention, but we’ve always been getting reassurance that our new school was just around the corner,” Johnston tells Local Democracy Reporting.

“It needs to meet the needs of our learners.What particularly concerns us is space, because there’s not much space where we are now,” she says.

Johnston says the Ministry of Education will come back to the school at the end of the month with more information on a rebuild.

“We’re yet to see what that design looks like and whether or not we think it’s suitable for our learners is unknown yet.”

Johnston says promises of a rebuild have led to a lack of ongoing maintenance. Photo: Supplied

On behalf of the ministry, Fowler says, “a major redevelopment of the school is planned with construction expected to begin in the first half of 2025.

“The project to deliver Sommerville schools’ new facilities has taken too long to deliver. We welcome the government’s inquiry of our school property function.”

Panmure-Ōtahuhu MP Jenny Salesa says the previous Government committed to supporting the school’s rebuild to help vulnerable learners.

“In 2018, a Labour Government announced an investment of $17 million into Sommerville School to support special education and ensure children with learning support needs are able to attend school and receive the best education possible,” Salesa says.

She says, “the state of the buildings that our students learn in, many who are the medically vulnerable, are unhealthy, leaky and in disrepair, which is why we invested in rebuilding a fit for purpose facility.”

These projects are deliverable, and this Government need to give certainty to the school … our school children need classrooms that are fit for them, and won’t get them sick,” Salesa says.

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