13 Oct 2015

Hato Petera students told of hostel closure at last minute

10:40 am on 13 October 2015

Junior students at Auckland's Maori boarding school, Hato Petera, were only told last week they would have nowhere to stay when the new term started yesterday.

Hato Petera College

Hato Petera College Photo: Google Maps

The Catholic school has closed its junior boarding houses - after more than eight decades - and senior students have been told a decision about their hostel accommodation will be made by the end of the year.

The state of the hostel buildings has been widely publicised and Lance O'Sullivan, chairman of the 12-person Whanau Hato Petera Trust which manages the hostel, described them as cold, draughty and having plumbing issues.

"They're 83 years old and they look 83 years old. That's one aspect," he said.

"Some other aspects that are challenging for the trust board, to be able to put our hands on our hearts and say we can guarantee everything we offer and promise the parents is the model the right model, the way we run things?

"I think that's what we really want to scrutinise over the next term to figure out ... is that what we really want to be doing."

Dr Lance O'Sullivan

Dr Lance O'Sullivan Photo: Supplied

A fortnight ago the school announced a review of its structure and the model in which it delivers its education.

But whether that includes boarders is not clear.

"I believe there is a future for Hato Petera. What it looks like, I don't know," Dr O'Sullivan said.

Former operational manger Shanan Halbert said he was shocked by the news.

"Term four, to take away somebody's accommodation living in their educational institution is unacceptable," he said.

Mr Halbert left the school earlier this year and said he was disappointed when the trust board signed a lease with the Catholic church for just five years, when leases used to be for 25 years.

The school could not plan for its future, he said.

"The decisions that this board has made recently indicate that they are supporting the move for this school to close.

"There is no evidence, or anything at this stage, that indicates that this board ... is supportive of the future of this school."

Existence threatened

There are about 70 students currently attending Hato Petera, with most living at the hostel.

Dr O'Sullivan said if all the hostels closed, the boarders could attend as day students.

But he admitted it would threaten the school's existence if they did not return.

"That wouldn't be viable and that's what we need to look at in the next three to four months is what will that mean."

Dr O'Sullivan is hoping the review of the school will see an academic institution that people are lining up to come to.

Dr Ranginui Walker

Dr Ranginui Walker Photo: Supplied

Old boy and kaumatua Ranginui Walker said the Hato Petera whanau needed to think outside the Maori boarding school square.

"After all, Queen Vic was strong. It got shut down. St Stephens was strong. It got shut down. Te Aute nearly went to the wall. They opened it up to girls and that wasn't a success," he said.

"It looks like we really need to precipitate that review as soon as possible if we want to save it but then we'd have to change the character of the school, open it out to the community but with a strong taha Maori component to it, which would be good for Pakeha students who attend such a school."

The Hato Petera land, which was gifted by the Crown for the purposes of Maori education, was also the subject of a Waitangi Tribunal claim.

The Hato Petera review is due to be complete by the end of the year.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs