The building known as the ‘Old Block’ is the earliest remaining part of Manakau School. Thought to date from 1906 but continuing the school’s history on the site since 1888, the Manakau School Old Block is of historical and social significance for its role in providing education for the Manakau community from the town’s early settlement. It also has architectural value as an example of early twentieth century education facility design.
The settlement of Manakau dates from 1885 when the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company workers arrived to clear the dense bushland for the construction of a rail bed. After the completion of the railway in 1886, the district quickly opened up, land was sold and the township began to establish. In 1887, there was concern over education facilities for the settlers’ children as the Education Board was unable to deal with the application for a school due to its present state of finance. By the following year the Board had secured the land for a school, and until facilities were built a school was temporarily opened at Mr. Whiley’s residence on North Manakau Road, in June 1888, with a roll of 28 pupils and Mr. Donnelly as the first teacher. A purpose-built school building was completed and opened on Manakau School’s current site on 22 October that same year, with new permanent teacher Mr. Findlay Bethune.
The first school building was designed by the Wellington Education Board Architect Thomas Turnbull and built by local builder Charles Nees. The original building was made from timber and comprised a rectangular classroom with a single gabled roof and chimney on the eastern elevation. The windows were double-hung sash with rounded tops.
A year after the school opened, a second cottage and lean-to classroom was added to the southern side of the original classroom by Charles Nees to accommodate for the growing number of pupils. Instead of closing the school, the pupils were schooled in the Māori meeting house at the pā while building took place between 21 October 1889 and 10 December 1889. By 1906, the roll had reached 114 pupils and a third room was added to the southern side of the 1889 classroom.
In 1920, the central classroom was rebuilt in place of the 1889 building, which was demolished. Architectural plans dating to 1940 show the construction of a new part of Manakau School, including demolition of the northern 1888 room from the Old Block. Photographic evidence suggests that the remaining two 1906 and 1920 rooms comprise the Old Block as it is today. The classrooms in the Old Block were handed over by the School Committee for use by the community after renovations to the new block took place in 1971. The 1920 classroom from the Old Block was returned to active duty after a growth in the roll in 1983. The 1906 classroom has also since resumed service and the interior was renovated in the summer of 1995-1996. Today the school operates out of four classrooms and has a swimming pool on the grounds.