Ministry of Education gives Hamilton City Council deadline for school demolition

The Ministry of Education says some of the buildings had asbestos.  City councillors have until August 30 to save Hamilton's ghost school.

Richmond Park School, on the corner of Bader St and Pine Ave, was to be bulldozed by the end of June.

Shocked councillors asked Education Minister Nikki Kaye to press pause while they consulted the Bader and Melville communities.

But earlier this month workers started ripping the cladding from the buildings.

The Ministry of Education said it had no choice because the walls were contaminated with asbestos.

They've offered the site for lease or for Hamilton City Council to take the buildings.

West Ward Councillor Dave Macpherson said the August 30 deadline was not made in good faith.

"We were told on Tuesday [August 1] that they started taking cladding off some of the buildings, so we called the ministry and were told, no, they hadn't touched the buildings," Macpherson said.

"Then we met with ministry officials on Friday [August 4] and were told then that they had removed some of cladding from the side of one building because it had asbestos.

"That was fine. But they then told us
the buildings were no longer waterproof.

"We were all gobsmacked about how
arrogant they were."

Cr Geoff Taylor was also at that meeting
and said the end-of-month deadline was
a joke.

"I remember asking at one point, is it
your normal process to demolish
buildings at an old school without asking
anyone? And they said, 'oh, yeah we do
it all the time'," Taylor said.

"Three of those four buildings aren't being used.

"It may never be a school again, but we could certainly use these buildings for other things."

Taylor said the school hall, also in the demolition zone, was upgraded in 2010.

Council had put about $40,000 into the hall and the community had also raised money for it.

"In an area like Melville, that's where you need community groups and social organisations and all [Ministry of Education] care about is demolishing buildings and getting it off their hands, really," Taylor said.

"At one stage we said, 'well, what about the community?' And the reply we got was, well, education's got nothing to do with community.
"These guys have just come in and just thought they had a right to do whatever they wanted to."

Education Ministry infrastructure services spokeswoman Kim Shannon said contractors removed some of the material from the buildings that had asbestos.

"We've had discussions with councillors and officers from the Hamilton City Council and remain in correspondence with them about their interest in the vacant buildings on the site," Shannon said.

"We have begun to remove asbestos-containing material from some of the vacant buildings on the site, but that will be the extent of our work for now."

There are two kohanga reo operating from one of the buildings on the site, both of which would like to stay on.

Shannon said the ministry does not actively invest in maintaining unused buildings on closed school sites "as this draws funding away from operational education property".

She said the ministry had given councillors time to decide what they want to do but, "did not think leasing of the site will be a long-term option".

"The vacant buildings don't have building warrants of fitness and therefore can't currently be occupied," Shannon said.

"They are likely to require substantial investment to bring them up to a usable standard."

Melville Community Centre manager Sharlene Roberts said she had tried for years to get a proper response from the ministry about its intentions for Richmond Park School.

"The main objective was to re-purpose the school so it could be used for the community, especially the hall," Roberts said.

"The community raised a lot of money for the hall, so it's disappointing that it may be removed.

"We're really peeved off about the whole process.

"The community wasn't consulted or even properly informed. The first was heard was in the media and then a flyer from the ministry in our letterbox."

Richmond Park School Hamilton