Managing school property

Issue: Volume 99, Number 17

Posted: 22 October 2020
Reference #: 1HAD6U

Education Gazette sat down with Kim Shannon, head of the Education Infrastructure Service (EIS) at the Ministry of Education, to talk about the challenges and opportunities that come with managing New Zealand’s school property portfolio.

With stock valued at $31.6 billion, and capital spend of around $1 billion per year, New Zealand’s state schools and kura comprise the second largest social property portfolio in the country.

It’s a huge and complex portfolio. And it’s ageing – around a third of New Zealand’s 2,100 schools were built between 40 and 50 years ago, resulting in a constant stream of work to ensure schools are well maintained and fit for purpose. 

Last year alone, the Ministry built six new schools, and delivered projects at 89 schools to improve their condition or increase their capacity. 

“As well, there are many hundreds of projects schools run themselves thorough the funding they receive to maintain their properties. Investment through 5YA alone is $250m a year,” says Kim. 

Challenges and opportunities

Following the 1989 education reform Tomorrow’s Schools, it was the responsibility of each school’s board of trustees to maintain the property. As the 2019 Tomorrow’s Schools Review Taskforce report identified, while this has worked well for some schools, others have struggled with the demanding workload and managing issues like poor design, materials and workmanship. 

On top of the ageing portfolio and widespread weathertightness issues, the Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 caused major damage to schools and a redistribution of demand.

“After the earthquakes it became really clear that we needed to have a nationally coordinated, sustainable response to managing school property,” says Kim.

 “We needed to make sure that when schools were being built, they weren’t being rebuilt 10-20 years later, and that they were being built to the appropriate standard.” 

The establishment of the Education Infrastructure Service in 2013 signalled a shift towards a more strategic, portfolio-wide focus, introducing better support for schools to help with their property planning. A number of programmes were subsequently developed, including the Christchurch Rebuild Programme, the Weathertightness Programme and more recently the Redevelopment Programme. 

Proactive approach 

This work feeds into the Ministry’s newly released property strategy, Te Rautaki Rawa Kura – The School Property Strategy 2030(external link), which outlines a proactive approach to improving school property. It sets a target of every school having quality learning environments. The Ministry is aiming to assess the condition, fitness for purpose, and operational efficiency of every school in the country over the next
10 years.

“We have a target of 2030 to complete this work, but it’s going to require some really carefully thought through investment to ensure that we invest the right amount of money in the right place at the right time,” says Kim.

“It is one of our objectives from an equity perspective to make sure that every school and kura is in a really good condition but it’s equally important to clarify that ‘really good’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘new and shiny’. 

“There are many older school buildings around New Zealand that are in excellent condition. So we’re trying to target different parts of the portfolio – small, rural, kura – to drive investment in the places it’s most needed.” 

Kim gives the example of a programme that is focused on ensuring that small and isolated schools have appropriate acoustics, insulation and heating. 

Reference designs 

The implementation of the new property strategy will stretch across many different areas. It will also build on existing initiatives that are proving to be successful, like the use of reference designs for redevelopment or new build projects.

Reference designs are designs that have worked well in other schools, explains Kim. 

“The designs we have put in place are designs by New Zealand architects who have worked with schools before. It gives schools a great starting point and makes it an easier process for schools to engage with so we can move quickly deliver the investment a school needs.”

It’s a process that’s been evolving since the school rebuild programme in Christchurch following the earthquakes. 

“Over the past few years, we have delivered some great outcomes for schools and we have used this experience to identify designs that can be replicated elsewhere. From that, we have developed a number of reference designs that could be used across New Zealand. 

“And all the time we are improving our designs based on feedback from the sector.”

Prioritising investment

Kim says she understands the desire to get projects completed quickly. 

“But it is not possible to do it all at once. We are continually prioritising and sequencing the work that needs to be done with our existing stock. And at the same time, we are purchasing land, building new schools and providing roll growth to existing schools that need more capacity.”

Many factors go into these prioritisation decisions, but building condition is a key determinant.

“We’re more likely to look at a school that is in poor condition for whatever reason and try to remediate that. If we have a roll growth project and we know that there are buildings in poor condition we will try to  combine those projects together.

“If there’s been really poor design, workmanship or materials, we’ll remediate those more rapidly than we would with a school that has some problems but isn’t in urgent need of repair.”

Working with communities

Kim says that one of their biggest challenges is communicating with schools to let them know what is happening with their projects, and why. She says improving this process is a prime focus for the team. 

“While there’s a huge amount being delivered around the country, that doesn’t always mean this gets done as quickly as we would like, and I acknowledge the frustration that can cause.”

The Ministry has a delivery team that is responsible for all the procurement and management involved with large and complex projects. Delivery managers are assigned to each project at a school level to help navigate any issues and facilitate the process to ensure schools are kept up to date with their project. 

“We are always looking at ways we can improve and provide the best possible support to schools, and I am open to new ideas about how we might do things better.”

Supplier relationships important

Kim says supplier relationships are also important. “We’re spending $1 billion a year in the New Zealand construction industry so we have strong relationships with our suppliers. We work with architects, engineers, builders. We provide a pipeline of work and we have set up supplier panels for construction suppliers which will ensure the Ministry and schools know what skills are available for them to use in the projects that they’re managing,” she says.

“The stewardship role of the Ministry in managing the school property portfolio means we want school property to support teaching and learning, provide benefits to local communities, and realise and sustain its value for all New Zealanders. We want this to be the case for future generations.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:20 am, 22 October 2020

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