Old pupils back for reunion

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Former Ashburton College students (from left) Max Cawte (who started in 1971), Chris Price (1972), Trevor Cochrane (1965) and Peter Binsted (1971).

School was in for 234 Ashburton College old pupils last weekend, though it had been 50 years since they donned uniforms.

A reunion organised by the Ashcoll Alumni invited students who started at the college in its first decade to return for a special catch-up. They were not disappointed.

Ashburton High School and Hakatere Technical College merged to become Ashburton College in 1965, though the Walnut Avenue campus did not officially open until 1972.

So the first decade of students had memories that spanned three school sites and many teachers.

Wearing red lanyards holding name badges, the former students recognised old faces and remembered old times.

The reunion started with an informal catch-up at the MSA on Friday night, then on Saturday they returned to the college for guided tours, a rugby game and official photos.

Those photos will be an important part of college’s history going forward.

Around the grounds, former students caught up and chatted about old times. Peter Binsted travelled from Marlborough for the reunion and recalled not only old school times, but working in the photography shop of his father Gordon Binsted.

He caught up with Max Cawte, Chris Price and Trevor Cochrane on the chessboard.

Mr Cochrane was a first day student at the new Ashburton College in 1965. He left in 1969 but was back in 1976 as a teacher of physical education, a position he held until he retired in 2016.

Current principal Ross Preece welcomed about 200 people to the college staffroom for afternoon tea ahead of the year group photos being taken by Tony Stewart, also a former student and now a commercial photographer.

He talked about the school’s next big mission: the school is to be rebuilt and government has pledged $60 million, which will cover about 70 per cent of the existing school.

Building a new school is cheaper than trying to remodel the old concrete block original classrooms and facilities, used 50 years ago.

Mr Preece said the school had negotiated a style that would fit for the school. It would not be having a “barn” that could hold 800 students under one roof.

They were looking at having flexibility and space, standalone teaching spaces as currently happened, but with the ability to convert spaces to hold 100 students.

The new school will be rebuilt to accommodate 1600 students, which is the forecast roll in 10 years’ time; currently the roll is 1250.

Mr Preece said he was still negotiating with the ministry for a bigger staffroom, which currently caters for about 100 staff. He is also negotiating bigger workshops that have to accommodate laser cutters and vehicle hoists.

Students left the college for apprenticeships because they were used to handling such industrial-sized equipment.

He said the school was fortunate to be supported by its community, which should see the campus rebuilt by December 2024.

The college’s foundation stone was laid in 1969 and unveiled by Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, who said that the school should serve the community for the next 200 years.

The reunion included a special dinner at the Hotel Ashburton on Saturday night, with the guest speaker former student Pete Datlen, who now works for Rocket Lab.

-By Linda Clarke