Five years ago, the proprietors of St Paul’s College in Ponsonby faced a critical decision at a time of low or static roll, buildings that needed upgrading or replacing and very little funding.

Four options were open at the time concerning the future of the college, St Paul’s College Limited chair Jan Pender told staff, students, dignitaries and other guests at the opening and blessing of the college’s $9.5 million St Marcellin Champagnat Building on March 23.

The options were to “close it, lease it, sell it, revitalise it”.

“We explored all the options and decided with the backing of our shareholder, the Marist Brothers, that St Paul’s College must continue,” Mrs Pender said.

“Because this was the turangawaewae of the Marist Brothers, the original site of Marist education in Auckland, and there was a demand from parents in this part of the city for places in Catholic schools.”

The proprietor company and the brothers then challenged the board of trustees to develop a strategy for the redevelopment and revitalisation of the school, said board chair Dennis Wood.

Five years later, the new building, which borders Richmond Road, “is an outward manifestation of this strategy. This building is a watershed, because it is a strong statement that this school is here to stay and committed to excellence in education”, Mr Wood said.

On March 23, the new building, which contains middle school classrooms as well as housing school administration and student services, was blessed by Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn and opened by Br David McDonald, FMS, the district leader of the Marist Brothers of New Zealand.

St Paul’s headmaster Kieran Fouhy said in a media release that the new building “makes a statement that we are quality boys’ school, forward looking, yet underpinned by [a] 2000-year-old tradition”.

“It’s the most significant development at St Paul’s College since it first opened and is a major investment for the school.”

The new building was partially funded by the sale of some unused land on John Street, supplemented by funding from Catholic educational organisations and a $1.2million donation from the Hugh Green Foundation. Some loans have been arranged.

Mr Fouhy, in his speech at the opening, praised the Marist Brothers for having the courage to push this project forward.

“It was courageous not to sell these lands, these underused fields, for apartments, rest homes or other things . . . . It is courageous to reinstate the purpose of St Paul’s as a quality boys’ school in central Auckland. It is, as one brother said . . . the optimism of hope.”

Mr Wood noted that for St Paul’s to be the “school of choice for the local community”, it must offer more than a new building.

“Our greatest assets are our leadership team and the quality of the classroom and teacher. It is what we do in the classroom that will make the difference.”

At the blessing and opening, the St Paul’s students delivered a stirring haka, which was responded to by invited students from nearby St Mary’s College who had previously sung a song as the official party neared the building.

Also at the opening were five previous headmasters of St Paul’s College and 15 Marist Brothers, as well as Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye. The new building replaced an older administration block and a building which used to be a Marist Brothers’ residence.

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