Restoring St Stephen’s

St Stephens School, Auckland
St Stephen's view of spire in background

St Stephen's School, a former Māori boys' boarding school in Bombay, Auckland, was founded in 1844 and is one of the oldest schools in New Zealand. The school was an important hub for future generations of Māori leaders to be trained and educated. 

Since its closure in 2000, the building has served various purposes for the community but has mostly been left without repairs or maintenance. It has always been close to the heart of the St Stephens Queen Victoria Trust (SSQVT) that administers the site and School Alumni who have fought tirelessly to reopen the school since its closure.

Decades on, there has been a real desire from the alumni and community to get the school reopened. In 2018, after many years of patience and effort, the St Stephen’s Queen Victoria Trust began the process of restoring the school and opening its doors once again to a new generation of students. 


Woods’ Involvement  

Woods's primary responsibilities included planning, laser scanning, surveyingdesign, data analysis, and engineering. The SSQVT strategy was to maintain and refurbish the most iconic buildings on the campus, this included the Main Administration Building and the two Dormitories flanking it. It was also identified that the newest building, a third dormitory, was the most practical pathway to reopening the school as it would need the least amount of structural strengthening. Laser Scans were undertaken of all four buildings to evaluate the durability of the existing buildings against the new Earthquake Standards implemented after the Christchurch and Seddon Earthquakes. 

A team of four Geospatial Specialists undertook laser scanning, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and Terrestrial Photogrammetry of the four buildings. This process digitally captured and preserved details that can be used throughout the restoration process, largely aiding the planning phase. 

Later, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) scans were captured on site to build a picture of the sub-surface assets. These scans also identified service connections, such as those linked to the old boiler room, which once supplied heating for the school, and revealed many services that had lain dormant since the school's closure. Identifying service connections provides knowledge of the current location and condition of pipes, wires, and other infrastructure to avoid surprises and improve efficiency throughout the project. 

St Stephen's aerial view of school grounds

One of the challenging aspects of this project was the hour-long drive to Bombay. Working with the SSQVT, Woods took a simple, yet innovative, approach to providing the collected data to clients, consultants, and stakeholders alike and leveraged their expertise to find a solution to their travel time. To address this pain point, Information and models were uploaded to the GIS platform, which became the repository for all the information Woods collected. Videos, drawings, 3D models and highly detailed digital meshes were all in one easily accessible place. Project stakeholders could complete virtual tours and self-assessments using all the data Woods personnel had collected digitally, at any time. 

Aside from the damage, rubbish and items were left behind from when the school closed, and in recent times, people have broken into the school to spray paint and litter the abandoned site. To highlight just how important the school is to alumni, when Woods requested that one of the dormitories be cleared to make the laser scanning process more efficient, the SSQVT and School Alumni organised a working bee to fully clear the debris inside the dorm before our team entered the building to scan.

While the structure has remained resilient over the years since the school’s closure, new Earthquake Standards present an additional hurdle to overcome. The school’s three main buildings don’t comply with the new standards and must be assessed and made compliant before they can be used. 


Woods Performance 

The determination of the St Stephen’s Queen Victoria Trust and the school’s alumni to reopen the school is a testament to the emotion tied to the campus.  Understanding the gravity of the project and how much it means to the community, it is clear that this project is much more than bricks and mortar and for the Woods team it has been a privilege to work alongside the SSQVT in their vision to reopen the school.

Woods listened carefully to the challenges of the Trust in their pathway to reopening the school and look to apply their diverse in-house skillset to move the project forward. The GIS platform was an innovative approach taken by Woods that allowed stakeholders of varying degrees of expertise to feel a part of the project and solved the challenges of long travel times and the need for a central access point for all relevant information. 

While the repairs needed are vast, Woods aims to work within the Trust’s limited budget, which includes funds donated by alumni and generated by renting out the former teachers’ housing that surrounds the campus. 

With still much work to go before the dream is fully realised, the school hopes to accept its first students in the school's next chapter of its history in 2025.

St Stephen's close up view of state of structures

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