A colourful learning environment

Since the Christchurch earthquakes the population of Rolleston has grown from 9,555 in 2012/13 to a projected 15,000+ this year.

It’s not surprising, therefore that this town should be the location of three new schools, part of Government’s $1.1 billion Christchurch Schools Rebuild (CSR) programme. Two of these schools, Rolleston College and Lemonwood Grove opened for the start of this school year. 

The full primary school caters for over 100 Year 1-8 foundation students with current capacity for 450 and plans to extend to accommodate 750 students. 

On-site work is underway on Waitaha Special Needs Base School to serve the wider area.

The name Te Uru Tarata (the grove of lemonwood) was bestowed upon the school by Te Taumutu Rūnanga with whom the school has a close relationship. Colour plays an important role in reflecting the diversity of the Selwyn landscape. The school crest in yellow, blue and green reflects the Rūnanga’s historic land use, and the building’s colour scheme, in matt black and battleship grey, vibrates with splashes of high-energy yellow – the lemon/gold shades of the tarata flowers against the grey of the shrub’s bark. 

This bold exterior contrasts with the unobtrusively light interior walls and ceilings which accentuated the impact of the joyously vivid furnishings and accessories. In its entirety, this colourful school shouts FUN – testament to the philosophy that children learn best when they are enjoying the experience. Quizzed, a student confirms this: “I really enjoy the learning in our spaces. We are given responsibility to choose an area to work that best meets our needs.”

It’s not surprising either that with such a large spend on schools, Government demanded that the Lemonwood Grove School contractors, Southbase Construction Company would deliver – at a budget of under $2,000/m ² – quality innovative design incorporating sustainable design principles – and, by inviting public involvement, build community support and encourage student numbers.

Southbase in turn engaged the firm of Stephenson and Turner (S&T) in a Design/Build contract to form a collaborative working arrangement between all parties. S&T are widely known and respected for their determination to achieve this through consultation and participation with potential parents and school’s wider community, the builders, the tradesmen, the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the teachers.

With Stage 1 of the build now complete, the S&T design team say they really enjoyed the hugely collaborative approach from all parties and are proud to have achieved something that many architects find difficult. 

Lemonwood Grove is one of the first schools in New Zealand to be constructed entirely from wall and roof panels that were prefabricated off-site in a local factory in a process involving digital technology and automated machinery.

The COLORSTEEL® prefabricated walls are timber framed and the roof and majority of walls are Kāhu® profile by Metalcraft Roofing, with the walls facing the courtyard in simple corrugate. The optimal length for the panels was 12m so the building has a structural grid of 6m to tie tightly in with the most cost-effective panel size.

It is constructed around a simple, steel portal frame structure so that all the internal walls are steel stud for simplicity and speed of construction, and are non-loadbearing. This means they can be easily removed to suit future changing education needs. 

The steel framing was being erected on-site while these panels were being constructed off-site and so on delivery they were immediately ready for installation, all specified modifications having been applied. This process enabled sub-contractors to work without delays. 

These time- and cost-savings resulted in the build, on 10 acres of bare land with no services, being completed six weeks ahead of the 12-month schedule and, at the $12 million price tag, under budget. Southbase attributes the success partly to this method of construction and partly to the high level of co-operation between the local community, local contractors, consultants and the MoE. 

This inexpensive and high-quality model will now be replicated within the Christchurch Schools Rebuild (CSR) programme.

S&T designed the school in accordance with stakeholders’ desire to create not only a functional building but also an innovative, inviting learning and teaching environment. The design focused on ensuring that the school had good lighting, acoustics and ventilation, maintained a comfortable temperature and met MoE’s ICT requirements.

The single-storey, L-shaped building is close to 200m long with each block almost 100m in length, sitting under the low-pitched Kāhu® profile roof which incorporates multiple sky lights which shaft natural light into the interior learning spaces. The higher-roofed multi-purpose space has full-height window panels on two sides which allow great penetration of light into the area. Three-metre wide verandahs provide summer shade and reduce exposure to winter winds and while one arm of the building braces against the nor-wester, the other protects the courtyard from the prevailing north-easterly wind.

The structure uses the ‘warm wall / warm roof’ system, especially suited to low-slope roofs, where the roof and cladding are separated from the steel structure by high efficiency thermal insulation, thus improving ventilation, warmth – and wellbeing.

The school’s state-of-the-art facilities include advanced services like hearing loops and underfloor heating; multi-purpose space; library; three designated learning studios – known as ‘learning landscapes’ – which vary from floor space to theatre-style tiered seating. Seating is as varied as it is appropriate to the learning activity and comes in a riot of colourful circular pancake-style cushions, bean bags, armchair chunks, and unconventional tables and chairs. There are also technology spaces for activities like crafts and cooking, as well as outdoor teaching spaces and an adventure play area.

The adaptability of these spaces is designed to encourage students to be both curious and physically and emotionally comfortable in their environment as they learn, on their own or in a group. It works for teachers too: “Our learning landscape design gives us the flexibility to continually adjust our spaces depending on what the learning context is.”

Principal Sean Bailey is delighted. The physical environment supports his team’s strong commitment to inclusiveness and encourages families to feel part of the school community. 

Stephenson and Turner (S&T)

As leaders in the design of education environments, S&T continue to forge ahead within New Zealand’s progressive education scene.We are passionate about education and our unique and collaborative approach is the basis for designing and innovating our learning environments. 

Mindful of the environment and with a vision to the future, S&T’s fundamental focus is to provide tailored spaces specific to each school’s needs, teaching and learning styles and the community it supports. Our experience in using prefabricated building solutions helps us to achieve efficient, high quality, healthy and safe learning environments for generations to come.

Architect: Stephenson and Turner (S&T)


Telephone: 03 974 1968

Contractors: Southbase Construction Company


Telephone: 03 366 6983 

Roofing & Cladding supplier: Metalcraft Roofing Christchurch

Telephone 03 349 7350

Roofing & Cladding Installer:

Graham Hill Roofing. Christchurch

Telephone: 03 343 1030

Cladding Profile:

Kāhu® & Corrugated 

Roofing Profile: Kāhu®

Product: COLORSTEEL® Endura  

Colours: Kowhai Glow, Sandstone Grey and Ebony