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Unveiling . . . People arrive for the official opening of the cultural learning centre at Kaiapoi High School last Thursday. PHOTO: DAVID HILL

By DAVID HILL

Kaiapoi High School’s cultural learning centre only opened last Thursday, April 12, but already it has a story to tell.

The new building, which was unveiled last week, is a “testament of faith” the principal Bruce Kearney and the Board of Trustees had in Year 12 building students to be able to tackle the project, building teacher Peter Graham says.

“And it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Bruce and the board backing my ability to work with the boys.

“It was a big thing because if it didn’t work it would have been a disaster.”

Work on the cultural learning centre began in June 2015 and took about 18 months to complete, with the year 12 building classes from 2015 and last year completing the work under the guidance of Mr Graham and his friend, retired builder Paul Mariu.

“It’s an amazing CV for them because not only have helped build a building, they got 42 level two NCEA credits and a national certificate in building and construction at level two.”

As a block course, they had eight hours a week allocated to the course, instead of the usual four hours.

However, to get the project completed Mr Graham says the students did their book work at home and worked on the site in evenings, weekends and school holidays – sometimes working until after 11pm at night.

“They were amazing – it’s pretty cool when boys don’t want to go home from school, they want to keep working.”

What is more remarkable is that several of these students might have dropped out of school without the opportunity to be in the building class, Mr Kearney says.

“For many of those year 12 students, to be part of the building course is the only reason they come back to school.”

Like any work site, the building students are regularly drugs tested and those who get a positive drugs test are stood down from the building site for four weeks – “and they hate it”, Mr Kearney says.

“It’s gold, because when they get into the workforce they know what’s expected.

“So if we are getting them off drugs before they get into the workforce it’s a good thing.”

Mr Graham says the end result was so good the building inspectors “couldn’t believe the boys had done the work” building the cultural centre.

The project was a real community effort, with Gem Kitchens installing the kitchen for free, Grace Stone donating granite benchtops, Action Scaffolding providing the scaffolding for no cost and Orange and Mango Plasterers supplied the materials for no cost in conjunction with EasyPanel.

He says the only drawback was “I kept losing my workers” because they were being snapped up for apprenticeships.

Of the 36 boys who went through the year 12 building class in 2015 and 2016 more than half are now working in the building industry, while the others have gone on to tertiary eduction.

Of those, Joel Wyber-Moore, who is now doing an apprenticeship, and Tahu Russell, who is studying commerce at Canterbury University, plan to start up their own business – Russmoore Builders.

“We had no intention of doing it, but after we started doing it we decided this is what we wanted to do,” says Tahu.