School welcomes return to city centre

School welcomes return to city centre
The new Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery in St Asaph Street.

C hristchurch’s original urban school is set to return to the city centre in April this year, with interest already so high from prospective students they are being placed on a ballot.
“The constraints of our site mean we have a capped roll, we can’t go beyond 670 students,” says Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery director Steven Mustor.
“There are families who are desperate to be involved in our special character but can’t be, and that is really hard, but it’s also a sign there is demand for this style of education in Christchurch.”
Steven says this high level of interest is something new for the school, which hasn’t had that experience in the past five years while it has been temporarily located in 1950s and 1960s unmaintained prefabs in the suburbs. “Getting back to the CBD is a pull for a lot of families,” he says.
“We have a philosophy that the community is a resource, and being in the CBD allows us to access that resource, which has been a challenge in the suburbs.
“If the students want to learn about the history of Christchurch, we can take them down to the museum and show them on the same day.
“It gives us access to other resources and business opportunities; we can form relationships with other organisations that may want to work with us. This is the wide range of things we want our kids to see.”
Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery is the result of a merger between primary school Discovery and secondary school Unlimited, which were moved to Halswell and Ilam respectively in 2011 after the earthquakes red-zoned the city centre.
By 2013, the Ministry of Education decided to merge the two schools, and although they were still on separate sites, Steven says the schools were keen to merge as both schools had the same special character.
The original plan was for a new school to be built in the CBD and opened in 2016, and Steven, who had previously worked at Unlimited as a learning advisor, was appointed principal in November 2013 to work on getting the school prepared for its merge and move.
“Opening in 2016 was wishful thinking, and finding a 6000sqm site that could accommodate 700 students was a challenge. But we’re really excited about where we’re going now, (in St Asaph Street) and the timing has turned out perfectly as the CBD is now starting to take shape.
“It lends a bit of vibrancy to the area and it helps with families who are struggling with the idea of sending their kids to school in town. It’s now less of a construction site and it’s turning into a city again.”
Steven and the board have been working hard with students and their families on establishing a common culture and ways of working together to make the two schools feel like one.
“There are benefits each group can bring to the others, and the younger students will have opportunities to participate in things and use facilities they wouldn’t have access to at primary level.”
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