by PETER OWENS
The rapid growth of the Catholic community in the Queenstown area has caused Dunedin diocese to revise its plans for a new Catholic primary school.
Although the Church had plans for a school near Arrowtown, the district has not expanded in that direction, but towards nearby Frankton.
The Queenstown Lakes region of Central Otago is one of the few places in the South Island that is expanding rapidly. Not only is the resort town of Queenstown the hub of Southern Hemisphere adventure tourism, winter snow sport and golden summers, but it is also a thriving business town, and people flock there from all over New Zealand.
The region has had a strong affiliation with the Catholic Church since the gold rushes of the 1860s, and indeed Mary MacKillop started and taught at the Arrowtown Catholic Primary School.
A Catholic Primary School has been operating at Queenstown for more than 100 years, but today it cannot cope with the numbers who seek enrolment. St Joseph’s Primary School and heritage parish church are on a constrained site near the Queenstown CBD, with a maximum roll of 175 pupils.
Something had to be done. The diocese bought land at Speargrass Flat not far from Arrowtown, and at that time it was widely believed Queenstown would flow in that direction. The diocese planned a $5 million campus to be an outspan of St Joseph’s Primary School.
Then Dunedin diocese fought a long and costly battle over six years for the right to do that. It won at every level.
Speargrass Flat residents went to the High Court trying to stop the 112-pupil school, appealing an Environment Court ruling that upheld the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s granting of resource consent. They lost the appeal and, in June 2012, withdrew their appeal against that decision.
However, Queenstown did not move towards Arrowtown, and diocesan general manager Gerald Scanlan says Bishop Colin Campbell thought the Speargrass Flat site was no longer relevant as a schooling option. The Church had noted that many Catholic families with school-age children arriving in the district, or moving, are now living in new residential developments near Frankton.
Mr Scanlan said the diocese, school and church community in Queenstown is looking at other options, such as building a 300-pupil school, church and presbytery at Remarkables Park. This area is developing rapidly and a new state high school will open there in 2018.
Mr Scanlan said “the diocese wanted to ensure it had an attractive contemporary schooling option available for the people in the Queenstown area who want to send their kids to a Catholic school. The diocese is conscious that primary education must be compatible with how people live their lives, where they live, work and shop.”
The 2.6ha Speargrass Flat site will now be put up for sale and should sell readily. The site is capable of being subdivided for low-density residential or visitor accommodation.