A Rolleston first for Australasia

by Mike Isle

New Waitaha Special Needs Day School opens its doors to students for the first time on February 1 and School Principal, Mrs Margaret Dodds, is thrilled. 

She describes the new facility as quiet, peaceful, harmonious — almost serene. 

“A joy to be in. And a joy to work in.”

Sentiments shared by her acting deputy principal, Sara Moppett.

‘Harmonious’ is also a word used to describe the process of bringing the new school into being.

“Our new facility is next to Lemonwood Grove — Te Uru Tarata Full Primary, and whilst we don’t share facilities, the respective Boards of Trustees staff, Ministry of Education and Southbase have collaborated right from the outset.

It’s been a very respectful, and positive process. We agreed to harmonise our school colours,” Mrs Dodds said to portray the collaboration and partnership between the schools.

However, Mrs Dodds admits to it being a taxing project. “It is twice the size of our previous school. On top of that, we had our self-imposed edict of ‘Excellence in Special Education’ and everything we did, every decision we made, was made with that, our students, our staff and our community of Rolleston in mind. We were operating a fully functioning school and managing a huge building project at the same time.” 

And it was from Rolleston that the school got perhaps its biggest boost. All buildings were planned and fabricated off-site using local company Concision.

It was then a relatively simple matter of assembly onsite by the Southbase team. The entire school from the laying of foundations, to its blessing last week took less than seven months. Waitaha Special Needs Day School will cater to 50 children initially, but has built-in capacity for more by way of satellite provision — this increases the roll to over 80 students.

Mrs Dodds has a staff of 25 teachers, 30 support personnel at her new school and at the satellite facilities at West Rolleston Primary and Rolleston College. 

A further satellite facility is presently under construction at Halswell West School in Christchurch. It will be opened at the beginning of 2019.

Mrs Dodds said the school and its satellites provided safe, secure, respectful facilities for those with disabilities to learn to evolve and to thrive — to be the very best that they can be. However, it is not all work. The blessing and returning of the sod was conducted on Monday 22nd January with more than 100 parents, students and Ministry of Education officials. 

“I think the most amazing thing for us was to see the joy in the kids’ faces. The way they looked at the amazing playground, with its fabulous recreational facilities—including a bike track — was amazing. The kids loved it!”

“It is all pretty groundbreaking really,” adds Mrs Dodds. “We believe our new school in Rolleston is the first in Australasia to share a site with a mainstream school. And that is why we have all worked to get it right for the school, for our community and, of course, for the kids.

“I am a very proud principal today,“she said.