“Golden space” for health school

Warm, comfortable, homely and bright – that is how Northern Health School’s new building in New Plymouth is being described.

In a bright new building near a playing field, the air is filled with the scent of fresh baking.

The muffins are out of the oven, and students crowd round their kitchen counter.

Northern Health School head teacher Vivienne Clarke says this is the heart of the school’s brand new building, and it helps make it comfortable and “homely” for the students.

She says the school’s students face major health issues such as severe injuries, heart conditions, cancer, severe diabetes, depression and anxiety disorders.

“For the students with physical illnesses, they need a clean and healthy environment,” she says.

“The students with mental health issues may have had negative learning experiences, so it’s important they feel safe and welcomed.”

Students find it easy to concentrate in the purpose built complex.
Students find it easy to concentrate in the purpose built complex.

The school’s building is on the Devon Intermediate School grounds in New Plymouth, and has its own access driveway and enclosed vehicle bay.

This is suitable not only for students who have physical disabilities, but also those with anxiety disorders who would be unable to walk the length of a busy mainstream school.

“Here they feel more comfortable – they are still part of the school with a fine view of the playing fields, but more protected from the world.”

Over the last few years, an increasing number of students put pressure on the existing resource centre, which provides services for the whole Taranaki district.

“At one point, there were 7 teachers and 20 students all in one room,” Viv says. “There were teachers sharing desks.

“For us, this space is perfect because it’s got separate areas for the students to learn in. It is a versatile space which gives us opportunities to do extra activities with our students.”

The kitchen is one of those areas which offers a chance for students to learn life skills. As well as being able to heat up food and make hot drinks, students can practice cooking and baking.

The Northern Health School has around 600 students in the North Island. The Taranaki site has about 30 students, although they aren’t all there at once as they come in at various times during the week.

The exposed wooden frame is a popular design with new schools, and can be seen in rebuilt schools in Christchurch, such as Marshland School.

Ministry property advisor Laura Keenan says the collaboration with the health school has resulted in an excellent facility for the students and teachers.

“It’s a warm, comfortable, homely, bright space,” she says. “This is a nice golden space.”

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