Battle for school brings Mahi­nawa

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

A mag­got in­fes­ta­tion is not usu­ally a happy oc­cur­rence, but it turned around the for­tunes of a lo­cal spe­cial needs school.

A new $8.6 mil­lion state-of-the-art spe­cial needs school was of­fi­cially opened in Els­don on July 7, but might not have been built at all if not for a nasty case of mag­gots at the school’s for­mer site on Kenepuru Dr.

Staff at the 40-year-old Kapi-Mana school had been ask­ing for a new school for decades, their site be­ing run down and far too small, prin­ci­pal Fay Stan­ton says.

‘‘We lob­bied the min­istry and ev­ery­one we could think of,’’ she says. ‘‘I must have writ­ten a mil­lion let­ters.’’ How­ever, it was not un­til an in­fes­ta­tion of mag­gots in 2006 from dead rats in the roof and floor that fund­ing was ap­proved for a new school build­ing.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Re­view Of­fice hap­pened to be vis­it­ing the school when the mag­got prob­lem ap­peared – mag­gots cov­ered the floor and walls of a class­room, and a stu­dent fell to his knees through a rot­ten hall­way floor where even more mag­got-rid­den rats were found. ‘‘The smell was in­cred­i­ble,’’ Mrs Stan­ton says. The re­view of­fice, which had been rec­om­mend­ing the school move site since 1999, in­creased its pres­sure on the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, and a new school was soon given the green light.

‘‘If I planned that I couldn’t have done it bet­ter,’’ Mrs Stan­ton says.

How­ever, it was an­other five years be­fore the new school would be com­plete.

Time was wasted try­ing to ob­tain a site on Kenepuru Hos­pi­tal grounds, which proved too ex­pen­sive, so the school set­tled on a site on a Mana Col­lege sports field.

‘‘Ide­ally, we should have been in this school by the end of 2007.’’

The new school, which houses 27 spe­cial needs stu­dents aged 14 to 21, is named Mahi­nawa af­ter a stream that runs be­hind it – the name trans­lates as ‘‘work­ing by wa­ter’’.

Wa­ter proved a prob­lem dur­ing the build­ing pro­ject with ma­jor geotech­ni­cal works needed to pro­vide drainage to the flood-prone site.

The com­pleted school is a won­der of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, eco-aware­ness and sen­si­tiv­ity to stu­dents’ needs.

Its hall­ways are curved rather than straight, as Mrs Stan­ton found over­seas re­search prov­ing autis­tic stu­dents dis­like long, straight lines.

Ninety per cent of Mahi­nawa’s stu­dents are autis­tic, with the re­main­ing 10 per cent hav­ing Down’s syn­drome, Noo­nan’s syn­drome or global de­vel­op­men­tal de­lay syn­drome.

Pale, calm­ing colours are also used through­out the school, and most class­rooms are iden­ti­cal to avoid up­set­ting the autis­tic stu­dents, who don’t like change.

‘‘There’s a mas­sive dif­fer­ence in stu­dent be­hav­iour. They’re calm,’’ Mrs Stan­ton says, al­though she also at­tributes the dif­fer­ence to stu­dents now hav­ing more space.

Dou­ble glaz­ing, so­lar pan­els, fruit trees, sen­sor lights and gas heat­ing have earned Mahi­nawa a five-star eco rat­ing.

The im­pres­sive tech­nol­ogy ex­tends to the class­rooms, which are equipped with iPads, ceil­ing hoists, ther­apy baths, and an ed­u­ca­tional kitchen, laun­dry and mu­sic room.

The Ed­u­ca­tional Re­view Of­fice are due to re­view the school next year, and will find a trans­formed set of stu­dents and staff.

‘‘The stu­dents love it here,’’ Mrs Stan­ton says.

Spe­cial school: Af­ter years of pe­ti­tion­ing about the poor state of her school build­ings, Mahi­nawa Spe­cial­ist School prin­ci­pal Fay Stan­ton got fund­ing for her dream school. Pic­tured with her are stu­dents Joshua Gates, 20, and Stephanie Miller, 17.

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