Ministry of Education starts urgent cleanup at Panmure school

By and is republished with permission

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

The Ministry of Education has started an urgent cleanup at Sommerville School in Panmure after hazardous building conditions hit headlines earlier this month. Photo: LDR / Alka Prasad

School principal Belinda Johnston said the clean-up 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 said.

She said progress had been quick since the meeting, but said “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 said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’d 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 said: “The property at Sommerville School is in poor condition.”

Fowler added: “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.”

Johnston said the immediate clean-up was 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 said.

But she said urgent repairs would not 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 told 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 said.

Johnston said the Ministry of Education would 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.”

Belinda Johnston says promises of a rebuild have led to a lack of ongoing maintenance.

Belinda Johnston says promises of a rebuild have led to a lack of ongoing maintenance. Photo: LDR / Alka Prasad

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

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

Panmure-Ōtahuhu MP Jenny Salesa said 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 said.

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

“These projects are deliverable, and this government needs to give certainty to the school … our schoolchildren need classrooms that are fit for them, and won’t get them sick,” Salesa said.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

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