By David Hill
The opening of Kaiapoi High School’s new classroom blocks on Monday proved to be a fitting swansong for outgoing Board of Trustees chairman Russell Keetley.
Mr Keetley says his involvement with the school goes back to its opening in 1972, and includes 12 years as board chairman. He has had two sons attending the school.
“I came here as a student for the brand new school 46 years ago and now I am going to step down from the board with another new school, so I have come full circle,” he says of the just-completed major revamp.
“When I came here as a new student it felt just like this – the buildings were all modern and it was fantastic.”
Mr Keetley came straight on to the Board of Trustees as chairman 12 years ago, at a time when the school was at its lowest point.
“When I came on to the board we had some very negative ERO (Education Review Office) reports and we had a very bad name in the community. And when that happens its not an easy fix. You have to change the culture.”
Twelve years on, Mr Keetley says he could not be happier to leave the school in such a strong position, with two new modern learning environment classroom blocks, the rest of the school refurbished and the school roll about to pass 900 students for the first time in its history.
Principal Bruce Kearney says beginning the new year with “a new school” brings a sense of “relief, excitement and anticipation of finally getting the students” into the new buildings.
The $22 million project has been a long process, partly because the school had to go through the architectural process twice after the school roll grew faster than anticipated.
“We were originally going to rebuild the school from 600 students to 900, but then we realised we needed to rebuild it with capacity for 1100 students to allow for further roll growth.
“It’s been a long time and I feel like I’ve been talking about this a long time.”
He says the process ran smoothly thanks to the support of Ministry of Education staff, the architects, project managers and builders and he will miss working with them.
Mr Kearney says he looks forward to this year’s school open night, as “the school will be able to sell itself” after years of showing prospective families around old, outdated buildings.
“I don’t have to battle on open nights any more and say: ‘oh, but the teaching is awesome’.”
All that remains of the building project is the demolition of an old classroom block and landscaping.