Christchurch Girls’ High school block rebuild a ‘tricky road’ – board chair

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A Christchurch school that won a rebuild is confident it is on the right track after years of struggling with the Ministry of Education.

Generic exteriors of CHCH Girls HS including signs

The ministry has agreed to rebuild the main block at Christchurch Girls’ High School. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Five years ago Christchurch Girls’ High School tried to get the ministry to rebuild its earthquake-damaged, riverside main block.

Instead, nearly $7 million was spent trying to strengthen it, but failed – and that choice, to strengthen, also dictated a new performing arts block that was built in 2017 on less stable land by the Avon River.

Now, after independent reviews, the ministry has agreed to rebuild the main block and a tech block.

The school’s board of trustees chair Julian Bowden said it was a pity it had taken so long.

“We’re happy to get to where we’ve got to, it’s been a tricky road. But we have got to a really good point.”

The ministry is still insisting that its choice in 2015 to strengthen, not replace, the 30-plus classroom block was “the best option”.

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In the same statement, it said: “The location of these two new buildings will be less prone to liquefaction and potential flooding effects from the Avon River”.

The wrangling between school and ministry resulted in three apologies from the Education Secretary to the board chair at the time, Mike Lay, who has accused the ministry of wasting millions.

“I don’t know if money’s been wasted,” Bowden said. “I don’t have all of those details.”

The board now had confidence the right choices were being made based on an independent review by KPMG instigated by the school after the strengthening work ground to a halt in 2018.

“We went back to the ministry and said ‘we need to go through a process because stakeholders need to know we’ve gone through a process to get the best outcome’,” Bowden said.

The ministry agreed with that, the review was done in 2019, then an interruption by Covid held up the rebuild decision till now.

Building anew on other parts of school property allowed lessons to continue in the existing main block in the meantime, getting around the disruption factor that played a big part in forcing a halt to strengthening work, he said.

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“I guess what we ended up going through was a really, really good process with the ministry,” Bowden said.

“Looking back, that might be the key thing, get alongside the ministry, get some independent help to go through that review and hopefully get the outcome that schools, whoever they are, are after.”

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