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Former high school campus mooted as New Zealand’s next refugee resettlement centre

Tags: Commercial

The land, buildings and infrastructure housing a former Māori boarding high school now up for sale have been mooted for refurbishment into New Zealand’s next refugee or asylum-seeker resettlement facility.

The now unused Turakina Māori Girls’ College near the township of Marton in the Manawatu/Rangitikei features some 3,000 square metres of buildings on approximately 5.16 hectares of freehold land zoned for educational and rural living.

Amongst the 12 building infrastructure on site is:

• 12 classrooms in two-storey blocks

• Multiple dormitories and staff accommodation quarters in various configurations

• An assembly hall and separate sports gymnasium

• Full commercial kitchen and dining room facilities

• A 30 metre concrete swimming pool

• A magnificent deconsecrated chapel for religious worship • Staffroom and reception/administration offices and

• Playing fields and sealed artificial turf netball/tennis courts with adjacent changing room and showering facilities.

Turakina Māori Girls’ College shut its doors at the beginning of the 2016 school year following several years of steadily declining student rolls. The property has remained dormant since then.

Turakina Māori Girls' College was founded by the Māori Mission of the Presbyterian church as a private school in 1905, moving to the Marton location in 1927. The school then partnered with the New Zealand Ministry of Education in 1981 to ensure high quality education. When it closed in 2016, the school had a roll of just 47 pupils.

The property and its assets are now being marketed for sale by tender through Bayleys Wanganui / Palmerston North, with tenders closing at 4pm on March 8.

Bayleys Palmerston North director Karl Cameron said the mothballed campus was being marketed as a virtual ‘turn-key’ operation capable of sustaining food and beverage, accommodation, and educational services on a large-scale commercial basis.

“Originally we though the target buyer market for the property would the likes of a church or religious group, a Māori iwi, a community services-based organisation, or something like a private training or recreational amenity such as the Sir Edmund Hillary camps around New Zealand,” Mr Cameron said.

“However, recent political and policy statements being broadcast by the new Government have brought the distinct likelihood that New Zealand will shortly be looking for a new refugee and asylum-seeker resettlement centre.

“And the facilities, buildings, landholding and location of the former Turakina Māori Girls’ College campus put this site at the top of the list.

“The structural ‘bones’ of the buildings and infrastructure are essentially sound requiring only minor refurbishment and strengthening to bring them up to modern standards.

“The boarding dormitories could be converted into single men’s and women’s quarters, while some of the classrooms could be transformed into family accommodation.”

Mr Cameron said the school’s dining hall had seating capacity for up to 200 personnel in a single sitting, with food being stored and prepared from the adjoining commercial-grade kitchen fitted out with stainless steel benching and a walk-in chiller/freezer unit.

“With the addition of a full functional gymnasium to complement the pool, astro-turf courts, and grassed playing fields, the availability of sporting amenities would keep any refugee occupants fit and active during their time living on site,” Mr Cameron said.

In the run-up to last year’s general election, now-Government coalition partner The Greens campaigned on raising New Zealand’s annual refugee and asylum-seeker intake from a current level of 1000 people annually to 4000 people per annum by 2024.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also been publically vocal on pushing for Australia to ease its release of Manus Island asylum-seekers – with an offer for New Zealand to take some 150 of the long-term migrant detainees.

The Turakina Māori Girls’ College campus buildings are accessed from a tar-sealed roading network, and are set well back from the main Hendersons Line road.

“When the site was operating as a Māori girls’ boarding school it was steeped in history and culture – reflected by the number of carved waharoa (framed entrances) pou whenua (totem poles) tukutuku (flax wall tapestries) and kowhaiwhai (carved or painted wooden beams adorning the grounds and buildings,” Mr Cameron said.

“If the site was developed as a refugee resettlement centre, these rich cultural icons would help assimilate new migrants into the indigenous Māori culture which New Zealand is built upon, and make them feel welcome into our heritage and society.”

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