After years of concern from residents and politicians, both the state government and opposition have confirmed that they will build a new inner city high school if they win the March election.The Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, made the announcement on behalf of the Liberal party on Monday (February 16) outside the Cleveland Street Intensive English High School where the new school will be located.
“Investing in education is vital for our children’s future and the $1 billion investment from rebuilding NSW to transform our schools over the next 10 years will give students every opportunity to succeed,” Mr Piccoli said.
The construction of the new school will cost $60 million and require the current students to be relocated.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Communities said the “new location will be determined during the detailed planning and implementation phase of the project.”
Skye Molyneux from the Community for Local Options for Secondary Education (CLOSE) said the announcement was most welcome but also left some concerning unanswered questions.
“This is a major milestone, the Cleveland Street School site is a great location for students as it is central, well served by public transport and is right next to the newly developed Prince Alfred Park facilities,” she said.
Ms Molyneux’s problem with the announcement was the timeframe. The Department of Education and Communities told City Hub that they expect the school to be fully operational by 2020, but members of CLOSE feel this may be too late.
“In 2013 Minister Piccoli said a new high school would be needed by 2017. The government owes it to our young people to ensure it opens in the time-frame it is needed,” Ms Molyneux said.
The Department said that all factors had been taken into account before the announcement.
“Current projections for the area show that there is sufficient accommodation until 2020,” the spokesperson for the department said.
“If the situation changes, a number of options would be considered to accommodate students in existing secondary schools until the new inner city high school opens, including converting existing underutilised space to create additional teaching spaces.”
The conversion of underutilised space has traditionally included the installation of demountable classrooms and has come under fire as a band aid solution in the past.
The Cleveland Street High School will be built in conjunction with both a Parramatta Ballina high school and the Department claims the investment will see a total of 1,600 new or refurbished classrooms across the state.
On Monday Feb. 23, a week after the announcement from the government, the opposition said they would meet the investment but deliver the project two years earlier with an alternate funding method.
“We’ve listened to the community’s concerns and today Labor is committing to build this school, and investigate all options for kids to enrol in 2018 – but it will be funded by the reliable profits delivered by our publicly-owned electricity network,” the shadow Minister for Education, Ryan Park, said.
The Labor party hinted at aiming for incremental enrolments if they were elected which would see construction completed by 2020, but the necessary work finished in order to take students from 2018.
Isabel Macintosh from CLOSE pointed out that this approach has already been used in the state.
“A staged building approach is currently underway at the newly opened Cammeraygal High School in Crow’s Nest. This enabled the school to open its doors a month ago to year 7 students while construction continues for future capacity,” she said.
The promise of a new inner city high school comes just months after negotiations regarding the relocation of Ultimo Public School finally came to a head and have the inner city families breathing a collective sigh of relief.
The three promised high schools will help cater to Sydney’s ever growing population. The Bureau of Statistics estimates that the population of Sydney will reach 8.4 million by the year 2060, or an increase of 80 percent.
These are figures that have some seeing the new schools as only a partial fix.
Education spokesperson for the Greens, Dr John Kaye, argued that the current Education Department building in Bridge Street in the CBD would make a perfect location for a school in the future but has criticised the government’s decision to repurpose it for tourism.
“While the Cleveland St development will provide much needed additional high school capacity in the City’s south, the site that could provide for the next increase in student numbers is scheduled for sale to the tourism industry,” Dr Kaye said.
“At the very least, the Bridge St site should be kept in public hands to make sure that inner city communities don’t face another education capacity crisis in ten years.”
Other future options such as the Bays Precinct and the site of the current Powerhouse Museum – if it were to be moved – remain ambiguous.