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Hostel a step closer to survival

Poto House hostel. PHOTOS/FILE

Parents unfazed by $2000 rise in boarding fees

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Campaigners working to save Wairarapa College’s boarding hostel have achieved their first target.

The school’s board has agreed in principle to hand over the running of Poto House at the end of the year to the Save Poto House group.

The board announced in May that the hostel would close at the end of this year after 94 years of operation.

It said a combination of dropping enrolments and buildings in dire need of maintenance and refurbishment made the decision to close the hostel unavoidable.

The board will still formally close the hostel at the end of the year, but a charitable trust formed by the group will reopen it.

The arrangement was finalised after a meeting with parents of current boarders on Monday night, where families were asked to indicate how many students could attend the hostel next year.

Chairman of Save Poto House Mike Higginbottom said having received the green light from the board simply signalled the start of the hard work.

“It’s a positive start,” he said.

“But there is a lot of stuff for us to get right now.”

“And we need community support in enrolments and spreading the word that the hostel will be open next year, and when it comes to fundraising.”

Higginbottom said boarding fees would increase by $2000 a year, to $12,500, which he said was in line with other hostels at state schools around the country.

Considerable fundraising would also be required, with a stock drive, where farmers donate stock to be sold, and an auction with a high-profile speaker likely in the next few months.

“If we had $70-80,000 to spend right away, we could get one of the ablution blocks done and spruce up a couple of the dorms,” he said.

“It is exciting and it’s good to be able to get full control of the hostel, but at the same time there is a lot of work to be done and we need the community to get in behind it.

“We want to get the word around to anyone with Year 8 students [this year], and any other parents that are in more remote areas who want a quality education.”

Higginbottom said a roll of around 55 would allow the operation to break even.

“If we get 60, we would be off to a good start.”

In a statement, the board wished the group well.

“Although there is considerable territory to still cover, we would like to acknowledge the time and energy that has gone into the process so far.”

The board said its priorities were “a safe healthy environment for all students at Wairarapa College and a financially viable school”.

The next step will be the formation of a charitable trust, which would be able to apply for funding from other trusts, and access potential tax benefits.

The group will work with the board and hostel staff to determine staff requirements.

Parents spoken to by the Times-Age on Tuesday were not concerned about the increase in fees.

Carolyn Jephson, who lives at Ngawi, 20 minutes from the nearest bus route, has one Year 10 daughter at the hostel with a second daughter due to start high school next year.

“It was great,” she said of the news. “It was actually a big relief.”

A former boarder herself, she said options were limited if the hostel closed.

“That’s the thing – we didn’t really have any options.

“We hadn’t really looked at a plan B. The girls are country girls – if they’d been stuck in the middle of Wellington they would have gone mad.

“We were looking further north – at Feilding or Palmerston North.”

Jephson said hostel fees had been relatively low for some time.

Richard Sandall of Bideford said while a bus passed the farm gate, there were still benefits for his daughter attending the hostel.

“We just thought it was a good environment for her – socially and academically,” he said.

“A high percentage of students [in the hostel] are in the first sports teams, but they are also achieving academically.”

The increase in fees was not a problem.

“It is what it is. No one wants to pay more but I would rather pay more than see the hostel close.”

Also a former boarder, Sandall said there was a need to improve links between the hostel and the school.

“There is a good opportunity to create something great for the community and future generations.”

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