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Erosion likely to force Otago high school to relocate, report reveals

Author
Oamaru Mail,
Publish Date
Sun, 10 Dec 2023, 4:56pm
An aerial image taken this year shows coastal erosion encroaching upon the grounds of Waitaki Boys’ High School. Photo / Google Maps
An aerial image taken this year shows coastal erosion encroaching upon the grounds of Waitaki Boys’ High School. Photo / Google Maps

Erosion likely to force Otago high school to relocate, report reveals

Author
Oamaru Mail,
Publish Date
Sun, 10 Dec 2023, 4:56pm

Coastal erosion could wash away trees protecting Waitaki Boys’ High School grounds within a decade and will likely eventually require the school to relocate further inland, a Ministry of Education-commissioned report reveals.

The Ministry of Education has met with representatives from Waitaki Boys’ High School to discuss the development of a long-term plan to tackle coastal erosion at the school.

Last month’s talks were based on a report by engineering firm Beca forecasting the coastline could begin washing away trees bordering the school’s playing fields within 10 years and could require the school, including the historic Hall of Memories building, to relocate in five decades.

In a joint statement, the ministry and the school said the safety and wellbeing of pupils was of “paramount importance”.

“Together, we are actively developing a comprehensive plan to ensure their protection”, the statement said.

The report outlined cliff erosion that has already impacted the school grounds and infrastructure and detailed likely future impacts.

The shoreline in front of the school was eroding at a rate of 40cm each year.

All existing school buildings were at least 90m inland from the 2021 shoreline.

The heritage-listed Hall of Memories building was 170m from the 2021 shoreline.

The coastal edge of the playing field was 24m from the shoreline.

Aerial photos taken over several years show how the coastline is being eaten away, already nearing the trees nearest the sea.

According to the specialist assessments, it would be more than a century before any of the school buildings were directly impacted by this erosion.

The Beca report revealed the school’s sports and playing fields would potentially be affected by erosion between the 2030s and 2070s and that steps needed to be taken in the next decade.

The tree shelter belt and playing field would be incrementally lost, with the trees potentially lost over the next 10-60 years exposing the playing fields.

The erosion the school was facing was consistent with the challenges experienced by the rest of the Waitaki district coastline, including three other hotspots identified in a 2019 National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) report.

A long-term adaptive management strategy plan was recommended by Beca to be developed by the school in conjunction with the ministry.

Ministry and school representatives said “this plan will encompass various measures to safeguard students and provide a secure learning environment”.

“We remain committed to ensuring the safety and educational wellbeing of our students for generations to come.”

The long-term plan would include proactively planning for inland relocation of the school, probably in 50 to 100 years time, if required - “[Particularly], the relocation of the heritage-listed Hall of Memories and other school structures,” the report stated.

Some of the other measures outlined in the report included no new buildings or infrastructure being erected east of the gymnasium, excepting shelter belts and maintaining fencing and stormwater drainage outlets.

Ongoing site management would be necessary to maintain fence lines and vegetation barriers to protect pupils and staff from hazardous areas around the clifftop.

Erosion would be monitored regularly and erosion estimates would be updated every five to 10 years, as well as after exceptional storm or erosion events.

The report recommended the clifftop be monitored relative to fixed points, such as the gymnasium, F Block and the Hall of Memories building.

Ministry and school representatives said “we will continue to closely monitor the situation’s progression, working with local authorities and experts”.

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