Cultural narrative backs up Kamo High School’s redevelopment project

Kamo High School’s $22-million redevelopment project is more than just a physical building; it has also become a testament to cultural narrative and community solidarity.

“It’s about how we continue to help grow and educate our young people about the history of our area, and it’s pretty special we can do that through a build,” says school principal Natasha Hemara.

The project encompasses revamping the southwestern periphery of the site, extending along Kamo Road and bordering the sportsfields. This comprises the dismantling of the schools’ whare, demolishing of the student support building and constructing of two new two-story classroom blocks comprising 22 classes in total, rebuilding of a new wharewananga space (meeting house) and redeveloping of the school entrance and courtyard.

The redevelopment has also provided an opportunity to create two purpose-built classrooms for Blomfield Special School. Blomfield Special School currently occupies some pre-fabricated buildings at the rear of the school which will now be redeveloped into a new space for the Student Support Centre.

Crucially, the redevelopment has provided an opportunity to nurture local talent. The main contractor is Canam, and Natasha proudly highlights the substantial involvement of local businesses, amounting to an impressive 76% subcontracting from within the community.

“We believe in being a community school and that extends to ensure we have a continued focus on giving back to our local community and providing it with business and work opportunities,” she explains.

There’s a unique feature that resonates deeply within the school and the broader community. A check-box query for former Kamo High School students applying to work on-site serves as a connector, demonstrating the paths past students have trodden.

“For example, Atlas Cranes is a family-owned business, and the owner attended Kamo High School. One of his sons who works within the company also attended this school and operated the cranes on-site. His brother is a current year 13 student here. So that’s just one example of the strong local connections and opportunities which can demonstrate to students the great career pathways they can build.”

As walls, panels and roofing emerge on the construction site, Natasha says the excitement within the school and the community is palpable.

There’s also an intentional effort to weave the school’s cultural fabric into the architectural design with Matakohe Architecture + Urbanism working closely with the school and local iwi Ngati Kahu o Torongare.

This partnership has involved cataloguing and understanding the iwi’s cultural narratives, supporting the design team in interpreting these, crafting cultural landscape strategies and identifying opportunities to integrate cultural narratives into the build.

“It’s not just about physical structures; it’s about identity.”

Natasha says the project results in not just about creating a better learning environment; it’s about enveloping the students in a living tapestry of the area’s history. “Our connection with our mana whenua ensures a cultural narrative running through the building,” says Natasha.

“Visitors approaching Kamo High School will be guided through a remarkable courtyard, where the exterior bricks of the lower-level classrooms will showcase traditional Māori tāniko patterns. Additionally, the existing wānanga will be deconstructed to make way for a larger, more spacious version, preserving the original whakairo (carvings) from the prior structure. The precast panels reflect the stories and cultural heritage shared by the community, breathing life into the structure.”

“The colours of the ponga forest, enveloping the new structures, also pay homage to the land’s history and growth: browns on the lower levels and greens on the upper levels, mirroring the appearance of the foliage.”

But it’s not just about physical structures; it’s about identity. The area has just had a name change by the New Zealand Geographical Society, driven by mana whenua, from ‘Kamo’ to ‘Te Kamo,’ an ancestor’s name, reflecting ancestral roots.

Natasha reiterates that the school’s engagement with the local iwi also highlights an ongoing commitment to educate young minds about the historical significance of the region. As walls, panels, and roofing emerge on the construction site, she says the excitement within the school and the community is palpable.

Students were also shown a fly-over design video of the project, further generating enthusiasm for the project.

© Waterford Press Ltd 2024 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

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