BY ANGIRA BHARADWAJ
Community members want the State Government to reconsider the site of a new school in the inner west after a parliamentary inquiry into the issue handed down its final report.
The report titled Inner city public primary school enrolment capacity and redevelopment of Ultimo Public School outlined seven recommendations for the Department of Education.
A spokesperson for the NSW Education Minister said the government will be reviewing the report and providing a formal response.
“The department is progressing with the redevelopment of Ultimo Public School on its existing site, with the new school scheduled to open for the start of the 2020 school year.
“The NSW Government is working to meet the need for additional school accommodation in the Inner City. The Department has prepared the Inner Sydney Primary and Secondary Schools Asset Planning Strategy to meet demand for increased student places across inner Sydney to the year 2026,” the spokesperson said.
Mary Mortimer, Convenor of the Council of Ultimo/Pyrmont Associations disagrees with the government’s decision to redevelop the existing site instead of the Fig and Wattle Street site as it had originally intended.
“It’s the community’s view that that opportunity is not yet lost. That it would still be possible for the government and the City of Sydney to negotiate purchase and development of that [Fig and Wattle Street] site,” Ms Mortimer said.
She added that the community would be content with mixed development on the new site including a school, childcare facilities, recreational facilities and some residential and commercial development.
“Given that Minister Stokes has previously been the Minister for Planning and is very knowledgeable in the area, it is still possible for him to instruct the Department of Education to hear the ideas that are available and talk to the City Council about how to develop that site optimally.”
Ms Mortimer said the report clearly indicated that department was represented in the inquiry by Anthony Perrau, its Executive Director of Asset Management.
“The assets section is concerned with bricks and mortar, dollars and cents. They do not deal with the educational value of schools.
“That’s not the appropriate person to be making the decisions about the educational importance of giving children enough room to play and plenty of space in their classrooms,” she said.
Greens MP David Shoebridge agreed that the Fig and Wattle Street site is ideal for a school.
“The inquiry went some way to identify the systemic problems causing overcrowding in inner city schools and each of the recommendations made were reached by consensus.
“But the majority missed a key opportunity to listen to the community and deliver an expanded inner city school on the public Fig and Wattle land,” he said in a press release.
Mr Shoebridge said local residents want their children to continue at Ultimo Public School while the Fig and Wattle Street site is redeveloped to meet future demands.
“The Fig and Wattle Street site is still owned by the City of Sydney and the proposed redevelopment of Ultimo School has not yet gone to contract. The new Education Minister must listen to the best evidence, sit down with the City of Sydney and make the Fig and Wattle site work.
“The committee heard loud and clear from the Ultimo school community that they don’t want their children to spend three years in a demountable school while their school is bulldozed and redeveloped into a multi-storey development,” he said.
Bill d’Anthes, life member of the Ultimo Public School P&C said the decision to rebuild the school on the existing site is a mistake.
“Because of the replacement and missing members of the Committee at the report stage, we do not have a clear recommendation to return to the superior larger site before commencing the more expensive destruction of the existing school and rebuilding a smaller than required school on a cramped site while moving the students to a temporary site.
“We ask our new Minister (with his experience in planning) to meet the school community and go back to the unanimously chosen site for our new school. It’s not too late to build the school we need,” he said.