Winter is a quiet time of year for real estate agents. People tend to hunker down and stay where they are. This has always seemed silly to me – if I’m thinking about moving house, I want to see the new place at its worst. With so many NZ homes damp and poorly insulated, winter is when you can really tell the good from the bad.

Anyway, as it goes for moving house, so it is for developments. You won’t see a lot of new apartment buildings launched to the market this winter; developers (and the agents in charge of selling) prefer to hang off until spring.

Construction companies, the guys actually building the homes, aren’t slowing down though. Our free RCG Development Tracker keeps showing more homes being built each month. As one example, The Antipodean apartments, marketed since late 2015, are now well and truly underway with a crane installed over the weekend. The Maritime, just around the corner, looks like it’s starting demolition this month.

I’ll be back to looking at Auckland housing next month, but in this post I’m going to tackle education buildings. We don’t show these in the Development Tracker, but of course they’re pretty important.

New schools (and school buildings) help to cater for population growth; they’re a key part of the infrastructure the government is always banging on about. As for tertiary education, the universities and polytechs have been investing too: they have a lot more independence than schools, and invest in new buildings as a way of catering for growth, competing with each other, or attracting international students.

The Universities

The University of Auckland has been on a major investment path for some years. That’s included new student accommodation, as well as a number of new buildings for learning and research. There’s a huge new science building on the corner of Symonds St and Wellesley St East (finished last year), an engineering building due for completion in 2019, and various smaller ones besides. Added to that, the University bought the old Lion Breweries site in Newmarket a few years back, which – despite the excitement over it – hasn’t resulted in much student activity yet, with only some postgraduate engineering based on site.

AUT is also expanding. It’s been developing a new “South” campus in Manukau, where the $56 million Mana Hauora building opened earlier this year. AUT is also working on a new Engineering, Technology & Design building on the corner of Symonds St and St Paul St, due for completion in 2018.

The Schools

Apart from the universities, there’s been school expansion in many parts of Auckland, including new schools at Hobsonville and Flat Bush (covering the whole range from year 1 through to year 13), plus most of the other places we’re sprawling to. Western Springs College is getting almost completely rebuilt, a $75 million project. Many of the college’s buildings are leaky, and others presumably just obsolete.

Outside of Auckland, in case you’re interested, new schools are being planned and built in Tauranga, Queenstown, Christchurch, Rolleston and Hamilton. Christchurch has been through major changes in the last few years, with the government shutting some schools and creating others following the earthquakes.

Education for All?

Over the last 21 years for which I’ve got data, the amount of new school buildings added (or replaced) each year has been remarkably consistent. There’s a bit of fluctuation, but no real trend. Population growth trends have been much more varied – e.g. a migration boom in the early 2000s, and another one now. At the same time, there’s been the long-running trend of an ageing population which reduces the demand for new schools.

What this suggests is that the Ministry of Education is indeed making decisions based on long term factors rather than short term ones. At least, I hope that’s what it means.

Another way to look at the data is to show what fraction of new school buildings are being built in Auckland versus the rest of the country. Based on the consents data, Auckland tends to get around 40% of the new buildings (leaving aside the last few years, which would have been affected by the Canterbury earthquakes).

By comparison, Stats NZ population estimates suggest that over the last 20 years Auckland had 83% of New Zealand’s growth in kids aged 5-9, 86% of the growth in kids aged 10-14, and 63% of the growth in young adults aged 15-19.* Based on this, Auckland schools seem to have been woefully slow to expand. Maybe they’re underfunded. But hey, what do I know?

* Overall, Auckland gets a bit over half the country’s population growth, but because Auckland’s population is younger and not ageing as quickly as the rest of the country, the city dominates growth in the school-age population.

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    1. Given that they haven’t even started any of the permanent development yet, I’d hold judgement for now. It’s far better (IMHO) to have apartments developed on the Tamaki Campus and then move all of the uni into a 2km long band through the city centre than to keep the uni scattered across the whole isthmus in order to build apartments in Newmarket.

        1. And what? Have the university’s high value research move to Sydney or Melbourne?

  1. What bothers me is the MoE is quite happy for schools to get really large. 1300 was a big school when I was a kid, and it felt unfriendly. Now schools are double that size. Some other countries have much smaller schools – only 3% of Finnish schools are larger than 500, for example.

    I guess that’s what we get if we’re not prepared to pay for better.

    1. I wonder if that’s partly a product of what we saw recently – Nikki Kaye suggesting urban schools with no playgrounds, but the strategy is to continue expanding these large schools if they have the room because its politically unpalatable? I agree that 1300 is large, and that’s not that big these days. Think mine was about 600-700 and it felt big enough!

  2. So what you’re saying, John, is that the consents data suggests that the MoE is building schools in Auckland, at about half the rate it is doing elsewhere, on a per new student basis. Our schools are feeling stretched and overcrowded, and we know we need new schools. Hmmmm… can anyone offer any reason for what looks like Auckland kids are just missing out?

    1. Well the huge issue is who will teach all these students. It’s a crisis that has been brewing for at least 10 years with almost no consideration from policy makers. Teachers need to be paid more in Auckland, and / or there needs to be subsidised housing.

      1. Would you also pay teachers more to work in small towns that struggle to get teachers? This would add a lot of bureaucracy if someone in the Ministry of Education had to determine the appropriate salary for each town.

        1. Or we culd just provide enough classrooms and provide enough funding to the schools and then the schools can see how much they need to attract teachers.

    2. Hi Heidi,
      This is the area of new school buildings being consented. We don’t really know how many of those are “net” new buildings and how many are replacements of old buildings. Even so, Auckland definitely looks under-provided for!

      1. In the context that there are 214 schools in NZ that are currently “over capacity”, it’s something to be looked into. Thanks for this information.

  3. Bigger is not better. Bigger schools greater student problems. Smaller schools and better student teacher interaction is needed.

    Schools need an area of green space that enables students to play physically outdoors.

    Teachers need to be paid more as do many of our workers whose incomes have been badly eroded. But the teachers that really need to be paid the most are those that are dealing with the youngest children as that is where the yearning for learning is created.

    1. As to the first point. The bigger the school the greater the range of subjects which can be offered, increasing student choice. It also allows a greater range of sports and cultural groups and a greater range of students. Very similar to the way large cities offer greater choice.

      1. But primary schools at the 900-1000 mark, like Gladstone and Finlayson Park? That’s at an inhuman scale for the littlies.

        And for secondary schools, we can get carried away with maximising opportunities in a way that actually minimises connection to learning. Friends in Finland send their children to a school in Helsinki that’s only 700, primary to secondary combined, and they believe their children are getting an excellent education. Plus that school’s at the larger end of the scale there.

        A lot of opportunities can be offered at a small school if the school is allowed to have smaller classes for less commonly-chosen subjects. As with everything, it comes down to money. While the rich continue to vote for education being underfunded, while paying $30,000 pa for each of their own children to go to private schools, the rest of us have to put up with substandard decisions like opportunities vs human-scale schools.

    2. “Schools need an area of green space that enables students to play physically outdoors.”

      Does this need to be exclusive use though?

    3. Having been to a small high school ~ 210 pupils, I agree to a point. However, one thing we definitely lost out on was variety of subjects, I even had to do Accounting by correspondence at one stage.

    4. Bigger is way better. My school had over 3,000 students. Because of that we had a lot of opportunities and facilities. For example I did the class in media production and had a film and television studio and a radio station. We had a olympic standard hockey turf and dedicated soccer fields, in addition to the usual main fields. We had the choice to take Malay as a language class, in addition to the usual. Our music department had a grand piano, we had a dedicated design studio and photography lab etc. We were able to stream students into proficiencies so they could learn at the right level.

      1. Nicker – not sure that everyone would agree with you on the “bigger is way better” front. Schools can be very intimidating places for children – perhaps you were an unusually confident child – but a school with 3000 is a massively scary thing for a large part of the population. Loss of identity in a big crowd like that is not a good thing.

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