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School sells silver to fund repairs

Published: 6:45PM Thursday November 06, 2008 Source: ONE News

One of New Zealand's oldest schools is selling rare New Zealand books and artwork dating back to the 18th century to help fund repairs for their ageing buildings.

The collection includes first editions of Captain Cook's voyages and books signed by former student, Noble Prize winning scientist, Ernest Rutherford.
Nelson College, with a history of a 152 years, says its buildings are more than 70 years old. Yet the college says it gets the same yearly maintenance funding as schools a quarter of its age.

"We have substantially more infrastructure costs than your average aluminium-jointed modern building school," says headmaster Gary O'Shea.

So the college is now selling pieces of New Zealand history - its rare books and art works worth hundreds of thousands of dollars - to help cover costs.

"After an awful lot of soul searching by members of the trust, it was decided that we would be better served if we were able to add the funds from the sale of these items into an endowment fund," says Ian Lash from the Nelson College Trust Foundation.

Keeping the fragile items would mean finding even more money for a museum-quality storage facility and the college felt it had little choice but to auction them off.

"From my point of view, and I've done this for nearly 25 years now, it's the most exciting collection of books I've ever had to sell," says Dunbar Sloane auctioneer Anthony Gallagher.

The Ministry of Education provides an annual maintenance allowance for all schools as well as a modernisation fund for schools older than 10 years.

But Nelson College says when you have ancient brick sewers, radiator heating and ageing classrooms, $2 million every five years does not stretch far.

The ministry issued a statement saying it has a good relationship with the college but it would not be drawn on extra funding.

"I think the ministry could very well look at, in terms of recognising that old things need a little bit more money than new things," says Lash.

The rare books and artwork will go under the hammer later this week.