Rebuild weaves cherished past with exciting future

Bicultural heritage, green spaces and learning at the heart of Thorndon’s community.

One of the oldest schools in New Zealand is taking a bold leap forward while retaining its rich links with the past, including its historic hall that dates back to the 1890s and has a connection with writer Katherine Mansfield.

Wellington’s Thorndon Primary, which was founded in 1852, will be redeveloped into a brand new school with modern facilities by mid 2019.

“The new school will be a base camp for us, a departure point into a brighter future,” Principal Alistair Du Chatenier says.

There’s a long history of Māori settlement on and around the site, which is on the former Pipitea kainga inhabited by pre-European Māori. This history will be reflected in the changes underway at the school through a series of “Pathfinder” panels.

“The overall theme for the panels relates to educational growth, and picks up on the metaphor of a seed growing to a mature plant – mai te kākano ki te kōhure,” says Alistair.

All the learning spaces will be flexible learning environments, which ensure that the Ministry of Education’s standards for acoustics, heating, ventilation, and lighting are met. Following from this theme, they will be named: Te Kākano (seed), Te Pihinga (seedling), Te Māhuri (young plant), Te Kōhure (mature plant). There will be a team of three teachers in each learning space.

It was said that the children of Tāne (tuatara, ngā manu o te ngāhere – huia, tui, kākā, etc.) surrounded those learning at the Whare Waananga. This is an important subtheme that the school whānau requested to be included in the design phase.

In its early years, the school was originally called St Paul’s School and was located in what’s now called Kate Sheppard Place. Its school hall is where Katherine Mansfield attended her ball and became the setting for her story ‘Her First Ball’. Nowadays, the school hall is part of Thorndon Primary and will remain on its present location beside the new teaching building.

Built in 1897, the school hall is one of a number of historic buildings in Thorndon with links to Mansfield, who lived in the area before leaving for a writer’s life in London. The building, designed in the Gothic revival style, has a remarkable atmosphere, and its architectural value is confirmed by its listing with Heritage New Zealand as a Category 2 Historic Place.

For the school’s teachers, the big change to flexible spaces will require new ways of working collaboratively, and Alistair says it’s an exciting opportunity.

“Our teachers have been preparing to transition into the new spaces and engaging in tailored professional development for their move to collaborative teaching in a modern learning environment.”

The school sits in the inner city and, as with most similarly-located schools, space is tight, particularly green areas and for sport.

But it does have an area of grass which includes a garden that grows fruit and vegetables, and a coop for chickens to give the students an insight into how nature works. A beehive will soon be added to the mix. 

The rebuild will also include an upgraded coop for the chickens. “They’ll be getting a new ‘chicken palace’ to call home,” says Alistair.

“We really enjoy being at the heart of our community. Although there are limitations to being where we are geographically, it also gives our students really easy access to interesting places to visit on foot close by, such as Parliament and the harbour.”

The first stage of the school’s redevelopment will be completed next year and the remaining stages in 2019.

 

This article was first published in the Education Gazette.

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