The magic of Piha is becoming more accessible to future generations through the creation of a living classroom in a Ministry of Education owned wetland.
The Piha Education Trust has been given a 25 year lease on the two hectare wetland, to develop an outdoor education facility for West Auckland schools. After several intensive years of work, the landscaping is well advanced and the old school house already on the site, has been refurbished and painted for its revitalised role of classroom and information centre.
Now, Trustees and schools are bending their minds to developing the educational facilities and programmes to be offered at the facility, which will hopefully have its own dedicated teacher.
The Trust was formed in 2008 by Henderson Rotary Club’s Kerry Dean (incoming President for 2013/14), around a board of trustees, most of whom are Principals and teachers from West Auckland schools. Having guided the Trust and the project through its start-up phase, Kerry is now stepping down as Trust President and being replaced by Linda Mayo, former Principal at Glen Eden Primary School.
With funding from a wide range of sources including TTCF, the Lotteries Grants Board, Pub Charity, Henderson Rotary and others, the Trust has in the last several years, removed a stand of pine trees and sourced some 10,000 native plants from Oratia Nurseries. These have been planted by children from 25 West Auckland schools, transported by Ritchies coachlines. A medicinal garden was completed in May this year.
The pathways are in development, managed by the Council Rangers and have been built with assistance from students at Kelston Boys and other voluntary labour. Boardwalks are currently being designed to provide complete access around the site, for students and visitors.
A large area such as this now requires year-round maintenance and that requirement has already created some of the on-going projects for children who will be using the centre.
The benefits of the facility are already being seen in the reactions of the children who’ve participated in the planting operations. “The children we see working at the centre, are always very excited at being involved. For many of them it’s their first real exposure to the world of nature and they love it. We come away with beautiful stories about the children’s experiences; and they regularly write their own letters and stories about how much they enjoyed the experience.” says Kerry.
The project has a professionally prepared ecological restoration plan and the landscaping follows a concept plan developed by Waitakere Architects. The concept plan depicts a wheel-like layout with pathways around the perimeter, with earth-path and boardwalk “spokes” linking a building at the centre, with structures where the spokes join the perimeter. These structures are called “education nodes” and function as a series of small classrooms that allow a wide range of different activities to be studied, all at once.
However, the education centre itself is basically only a hub and the whole of Piha will offer students a wide range of learning opportunities, potentially contributing to all or a large part of the schools’ annual curriculum.
The Piha Education Trust hasn’t yet fixed an opening day for the centre, but expects it will be later this year.