Project organiser Richard Butler, left, and Mike Tatham sitting on the digger which will convert the “eyesore” land into a bike track. PHOTO/ELISA VORSTER

ELISA VORSTER
elisa.vorster@age.co.nz

A Solway Primary School old boy is calling in decades of owed favours to help him give back to the school community which taught three generations of his family.

Richard Butler has joined forces with principal Mark Bridges to convert a hectare of land he calls an “eyesore” into a bike track and play area for the school’s growing roll.

The former student came up with the idea after the school’s centenary in April, from which he had hoped there would be left over profits to launch the project.

Sadly, there were no profits, but it did nothing to stop Butler from going ahead anyway.

He said he was doing the project simply “because I can”.

“The school came up with some money and I’ll put some in too,” he said.

Bridges said Butler was a tremendous supporter of the school, having already given up hundreds of hours including carrying out soil testing with an engineer to make sure the land wasn’t contaminated.

“What else do you do when you’re 70 years old?” Butler asked.

“Sit around and wait for God?”

Butler enlisted the help of Mike Tatham after seeing him driving up and down the street in his digger and decided he must be free to lend a hand.

Together they have worked all week to clear the half-hectare of land which sits between the school boundary and the railway line, which had become a dumping ground for rubbish and broken down machinery.

There have already been a few surprise finds as they pulled back the overgrown blackberry bushes, including a nesting hen and 13 of her eggs.

The land which belongs to Kiwi Rail will now be leased to the school for the next decade at a “peppercorn rate” with the first year being free.

However, the biggest cost will be erecting a new fence to keep the children safe from the railway line.

And although Butler was “calling in a lot of favours from people who didn’t even know they owed them”, they were still looking for grants and materials.

Once the project is finished, the area is expected to be larger than the outdoor area the students currently have.