Papamoa College Hero

Papamoa College: redefining the learning environment

Papamoa is in the hinterland beyond Tauranga. It’s a swelling suburb between State Highway 20 and the beach, whose population grew by 11% between 2006 and 2012. In June 2009, the Government gave the final go ahead for the fast track delivery of Papamoa College, which had to be ready for classes at the start of 2011.

Hawkins track record on new-build schools, highlighted through projects such as the integrated Mission Heights Junior College and Primary Schools,  meant we were awarded the task of delivering a fully-operational school campus in just 18 months.


The Ministry of Education’s aim:

  • To design, consent and construct a fully-operational school campus for Years 7-13 in time for the start of the 2011 academic year, utilising the next generation ‘learning commons’ layout.
  • To deliver a building with an extremely high earthquake performance rating due to local seismic risks and the sand-based ground conditions.

What we did:

We led the team that delivered this project using the design and build procurement model in just 18 months – six months less than a normal ‘quick turnaround’! This tight timeframe was a result of efforts to implement the $7 billion stimulus package, announced by the then incoming National Government in November 2008.

Our team on this project included ASC Architects, GHD (services engineering) and Buller George Turkington (structural engineers), plus 180 subcontractors. This project owes its success to the teamwork and commitment demonstrated by everyone involved.

Papamoa College was initially configured in a Y shape (with 660 teaching places), which would than grow into an X (1100 teaching places) over time. The combined intermediate and high school forgoes cellular classrooms to support the modern approaches to teaching where learning is not subject-based but inquiry-based, with the student at the centre.

It comprises four main components:

  • The 6 learning commons, which occupy the wings of the Y plus a large number of specialist areas. Each learning commons is large enough to cater for up to 100 students and is equivalent in size to four regular classrooms and their corridors. These areas can be opened up or separated into learning spaces for groups of various sizes
  • The bridge and elevated walkway
  • The two single-storey buildings
  • A superb gym and performing arts centre with facilities for theatre, dance and sound recording.

The school is equipped with the latest technology to aide learning and research.

Unique challenges:

  • The site conditions made the construction more complex. The school is built on sand in an area of high seismic activity, so significant foundation work was required to ensure its stability. The ‘belt and braces’ foundation and piling system called for a virtual forest of 550 tree trunks, each 300mm in diameter and six metres long. They were driven through a top layer of hard sandy soil, then through a looser layer and finally into another solid layer. These poles were married to foundations, with four such piles under each pile cap.
  • At times construction actually ran ahead of the plans. The Tauranga City Council inspectors bent over backwards to streamline the consenting process.
  • The extensive ground works placed considerable strain on the budget. Particularly at risk was the glazed façade, which was scheduled to be fitted towards the end of the project. However, while this kind of façade would normally be too expensive for a school, we managed it thanks to some wise shopping, and by making extensive use of our networks.
  • We were responsible for 180 subcontractors at the peak of the operation, most of whom were part of the local community. They bought in to our safety standards and their desire to build something for their community showed in their attitude and workmanship.

The outcome:

The school has been designed and built to the New Zealand GreenStar rating system (5 Stars) and represents the first “single stacked” learning commons configured school in New Zealand. This design has allowed the building to perform well for natural light and ventilation that has enabled efficiencies in energy consumption for lighting and HVAC services as well as improving the general quality of indoor learning environment.

The result is the fastest delivery of a secondary school in New Zealand’s history. It’s a school that’s designed to protect the lives of all those in it in the event of a one in 1,000-year earthquake and to remain functional afterwards.