31 Mar 2016

Report decries PPP schools' design

8:39 pm on 31 March 2016

Independent reviewers have poked holes in the design of the first two schools built as public-private partnerships, saying they are too complicated and display a lack of understanding of how schools work.

Reports for the Education Ministry said the Hobsonville Point primary and secondary schools were so reliant on electrical systems they had to close if the power was off for more than a couple of hours.

A post-occupancy evaluation by Opus International Consultants said the primary school's dependence on electricity for ventilation and water showed a lack of understanding of how schools run. It also led to high maintenance costs.

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The Hobsonville Point primary school Photo: RNZ / John Gerritson

The review of the secondary school said it leaked and had features that were of no functional merit.

But the schools' principals told RNZ the schools buildings were great to work in and they liked the PPP system, where the government pays an annual fee to a group of companies that builds and maintains the schools.

The secondary school's principal, Maurie Abraham, said the school was so good he felt like he had died and gone to heaven, and the problems identified in the report were relatively minor.

"We did have some leaks, we haven't got any now so they've obviously fixed them. We did have some issues around getting the air-con calibrated correctly and they're largely fixed.

"So they were niggles at the time, but there's no ongoing issues that I can think of."

The primary school principal, Daniel Birch, said it had not been hard to fix problems with the buildings.

"With any new build there's always small issues. The great thing that we have is because a consortium put it together... we've been able to negotiate any change we've needed. So if a door's not working properly, they simply replace it."

The reports said the new schools had high maintenance costs, but Mr Birch said the PPP system meant maintenance was covered by the consortium responsible for the buildings and that also freed him up for other work.

"The main part of a principal's job can often be property - property is totally taken away from us. So there's a property company that manage the buildings, both inside and out. My role in property is about a 30 second meeting on a Tuesday morning around making sure they're doing their job. Other than that, my focus is on teaching and learning."

Associate education minister Nikki Kaye said the liability to correct any defect in PPP schools rested with the private partner.

Ms Kaye said she was confident there were high standards of design in schools built through public-private partnerships.

She said there were lessons to be learned in any new construction and the government would save money by using PPP to build schools.

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