Principal's Message

Principal’s Message – Mid-Term 1, 2024

Bill Alington, the architect who designed what some of our students term as the ‘gulag’ style blocks but which many of us know as brutalist style, died last week. I attended his funeral along with many others and the speakers focused on Bill but also on his designs. Wellington High School featured prominently in the pictures and in the accompanying booklet. Bill was much revered in architectural circles and one parent who I spoke to at the funeral described his buildings as a national tāonga.

Having dealt with the ongoing maintenance on these blocks for many years now I’m not sure I completely agree but I love the fact that design was seen as important in the building of our new school (back in the 1970s). My interpretation of this is that schools were valued as public places and if we were building one, we needed to carefully think about design, not only how it looked, but in the way it operated. In modern parlance, Bill’s design might be considered a bespoke solution. Bespoke because I can imagine there was a long consultation process, involving the students, teachers, and our community that preceded that design and because we have different needs to other schools.

Our site is an unusual one, encompassing the eastern and western sides of Pukeahu and surrounded by Massey university. It has a unique history having served as ngākinga (gardens) in pre-colonial times for Te Akatarewa Pā which was located on the hillside above where Wellington College stands today. Prior to that, Pukeahu had been densely wooded with Pukatea, Tōtara, Rātā, Rimu and Mānuka, before Ngāi Tara cleared the land for agricultural purposes.

In colonial times, our site became a gaol (Mount Cook Gaol) with an accompanying brickworks located where our field / turf stands. In the 1870s and 1880s, prisoners from Parihaka were housed in the Terrace Gaol and put to work at the Mount Cook brickworks.

You can imagine how Wellington must have really embraced the movement of the school (from down in Mercer Street) onto this site in the 1920s after its more recent sad, sorry history. The hall stands as the only remnant of those original buildings which were demolished in the early 1980s after the construction of the Alington blocks.

Now we have grown out of the Alington blocks that we currently inhabit. In 2014 we were a school of 1,028 students; we are now a school of 1,618 students. You will know that we installed eight new ‘temporary’ classrooms on the edge of our field a few years ago to meet the growing demand but we continue to grow. The Ministry told me last year that we were 13-15 classrooms short of what we needed and we have grown by another 50-60 students this year. There are three more temporary classrooms due to land by the start of term three. 

In the longer term, we are involved in a ‘master’ planning process, but I received notice last Friday that the new Government has paused this process for at least three months while they ‘review’ the property portfolio and try to find savings. In announcing the inquiry into school property, the minister has referred to the school property system as “bordering on crisis”, not “under-pinned by a value-for-money approach” and with “some schools expecting exciting, bespoke building projects that are not able to be delivered on”. That word bespoke again!

I understand the need for financial prudence (although not at all if it’s because it’s going to be delivered alternatively as a $20 tax cut in a year’s time). But I also understand that schools are worth the money we spend on them, and we don’t spend enough on them. If the current Government inherited a school property system “bordering on crisis”, then whose fault is that? That’s a cumulative problem that previous National coalitions and Labour coalitions have overseen. And our Alington blocks have struggled through their history because they haven’t been maintained, because there hasn’t been the money there to maintain them. However, in working with the Ministry over the last six years in the property space, it is my impression that the Government had recognised that schools were worth it. And they were committing more money into this space because the buildings that our children inhabit are really important. 

We are one of the schools expecting a “bespoke building project” because we are a bespoke school (enough of that word!). 

We have a rich history and Pukeahu provided for its community in pre-colonial times. In the last 100 years, we have been providing for our community as a day school, and as a night school. Our stories are vitally important because they shape who we are now. These stories have fed into our past and current design processes. They created the Alington blocks and they have been designing new buildings to meet our future needs. I sincerely hope the Government recognises this.

Dominic Killalea