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The new student centre, Te Puna, has 6900 sq m of floor space dedicated to student services, teaching and study spaces, library facilities, food outlets, and a new student health centre -Photo by Matt Crawford, courtesy of WLC

Unitec commences the revitalisation of its campus – By Lynne Richardson

Over the next 10 to 15 years, Unitec is set to transform its current Mt Albert campus on Auckland’s western city fringe to better meet the needs of its students, the local community and greater Auckland, with the development of a 21st century living, learning and working environment.

Unitec is New Zealand’s largest institute of technology, with 16,000 students studying over 150 work-oriented programmes. Established in 1976 as the Carrington Technical Institute, the campus lies on 55 ha of grounds (owned by Unitec) on Carrington Road in Mt Albert, and includes the historic listed buildings of the former Carrington Hospital, which served as Auckland’s lunatic asylum until the early 1990s.

The institute operates from a very diverse range and number of buildings spread across the campus, which provides challenges for teaching staff to effectively use modern teaching methods and technology. 

Master planning

Planning for a major campus redevelopment began in the early 2010s. A long-term vision and master plan was established to revitalise the campus and fully utilise the extensive grounds by creating a vibrant, multi-purpose urban village – the Wairaka Precinct – where education, business and living can take place, and creating opportunities for enhanced green spaces, improved access to the nearby Oakley Creek, improved connectivity to transport, and quality housing.
A dedicated property development entity for Unitec, the Wairaka Land Company (WLC), was established for the express purpose of developing the Wairaka Precinct, managing the existing properties, and bringing together all facilities management and operations under one control. WLC is led by an expert team with diverse backgrounds in property development, strategic planning, resource management, commercial transactions, community development and place-making.
To enable the vision, WLC led Unitec’s participation in the Auckland Unitary Plan process, requesting zoning changes and outlining a set of ideas for the long-term development of the Wairaka Precinct. It was a proactive contributor to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) and its property strategy was developed and completed in 2013 to support its PAUP submission, with wide engagement with central and local government, Auckland Council-controlled organisations and the local community. In August 2016, Auckland Council approved the Unitary Plan, including WLC’s proposals.

The canopied exterior of Mataaho – the facility is New Zealand’s largest open-plan trades training facility and reflects a modern worksite with many disciplines in close proximity

William Smith, WLC chief executive, says polytechnics, unlike universities, are about delivering ‘working learning’. “The way tertiary education is delivered today has changed fundamentally from when Unitec was first established – changes brought about by advances in technology and modern ways that optimise learning opportunities,” he notes. 

“The current campus has too many buildings that are too spread out. There is no ‘heart’ to the campus. Some of the buildings were only ever intended to be temporary structures, and were not designed for modern teaching methods. The various trades are taught in isolation, and we need to move to a more collaborative model across the various disciplines, so that associated vocations – such as architecture, landscaping and construction – can be co-located.”

From campus to urban village

Another important aspect of the master plan is to free up land within the Wairaka Precinct for commercial and residential development – including a business park and student accommodation – which will be achieved by reducing the Unitec property portfolio from the current 177 buildings to a dozen that are fit for purpose, effectively reducing the property footprint from over 100,000 sq m to around 55,000 sq m on just 8 ha of land.

Mr Smith says it’s all about optimising the asset base and building a sense of community. “Development of the Wairaka Precinct will allow Unitec to consolidate into a core campus area with modern fit-for-purpose learning facilities. This campus will be co-located with businesses which can leverage off and significantly contribute to the education programme, including the provision of research, skills and work experience,” he explains.
“The creation of an urban village within the remainder of the Wairaka Precinct will create the natural and built environment that will make Wairaka a great place to live and work. It also creates the economic opportunity for Unitec to undertake its necessary tertiary education reforms.”
Mr Smith acknowledges that the business park is dependent on finding partners who will co-locate with Unitec and provide the innovation, research and onsite learning that Unitec requires from its business partners. Almost 70,000 sq m of space has been identified for future development, which is likely to be implemented over a 10 to 15-year time period.
In addition to the proposed student accommodation, there is also the potential for thousands of dwellings to be built, being a mix of apartments, special accommodation and terrace houses.

Transport options

A number of local infrastructure projects are already providing significant benefits for the Wairaka Precinct. Completion of the Waterview tunnels and the connection of the Northwestern Motorway to the Southwestern earlier this year has resulted in a major decrease in traffic on Carrington Road – estimated at up to 70% – making travel into and out of the campus grounds far safer and easier.
Local bus services travelling along Carrington Road will be improved, and a new bus hub on Carrington Road for Unitec and the surrounding community is in the planning stages to make best use of any new public transport options in the future. The Waterview shared path has recently opened, connecting Mt Albert to Waterview and the Northwestern Cycleway.

One of the aims of the master plan is to reduce students’ dependence on cars to get to and from the campus (requiring far too much space that is dedicated to car parks) and promote the use of public transport via buses and trains with cycling and walking. All WLC staff use e-bikes to get around the campus, and many staff travel into the city from home then bike to Unitec.

Modern learning facilities

WLC has recently completed two new state-of-the-art buildings that serve as the foundation of the modern campus. The new trades training facility, named Mataaho, and student centre, named Te Puna, were officially opened on 23 August.

Unitec chief executive Dr Rick Ede says the new buildings mark the first major physical step in Unitec’s transformation. “Te Puna and Mataaho embody Unitec’s vision for a modern campus, tailor-made to support our approach to contemporary applied learning.”

Te Puna forms the centre of student and staff life at Unitec, with 6900 sq m of floor space dedicated to student services, teaching and study spaces, library facilities, food outlets, and a new student health centre. Students contributed to the design and delivery of Te Puna with projects worked into the Unitec curriculum, including furnishings, landscaping, layout and traffic management planning.

At 7000 sq m, Mataaho is New Zealand’s largest open-plan trades training facility. The design reflects a modern worksite with many disciplines in close proximity, giving students exposure to an array of specialties. Unitec has invested nearly $8 million to fill Mataaho with a huge range of specialised tools and equipment, complemented by the largest range of virtual reality, augmented reality, and emulation equipment for trades training in the country.

Dean of engineering, construction and infrastructure, Renee Davies, says combining traditional hands-on training with simulation and emulation equipment gives students extra time to practise, allows them to revisit lessons, and to use enhanced visual tools to support learning.

As the country’s most advanced trades training centre, Mataaho also brings opportunities for Unitec to collaborate with the wider construction and automotive industries, opening the doors to organisations seeking to train staff on the latest techniques and technologies.

A new vibrant hub

Construction of the new buildings began in January last year and was completed for Semester 2 this year. The combined cost of both buildings, including equipment for Mataaho, was $70 million.

William Smith says the buildings’ completion indicates that Unitec’s transformation is well underway. “We are really excited about the future for Unitec. Investing in these new facilities will leverage Unitec’s wider offering to better meet the needs of contemporary learners and the wider community. We will turn infrastructure from an anchor into a resource, creating a new vibrant hub for the western city fringe, and in the process Unitec will become a better and more sustainable business.”

Lynne Richardson is the editor of New Zealand Construction News and FTD - Supply Chain Management Magazine



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