By Leanne Elahmad
The Ultimo Public School community called for the Department of Education and the City of Sydney to reopen negotiations at a fiery community meeting on June 17.
The community has demanded that government stakeholders undertake an independent survey of the Fig and Wattle Street site to gauge the actual level and cost of remediation necessary.
These calls for negotiation come after the state government back-flipped on a promise to build a new school at an industrial site on Wattle Street that would cater to 1000 students and a childcare facility holding up to 80 children.
Ultimo Public School P&C spokesperson Bill d’Anthes described the meeting as “fiery”, and said he’d never seen a group of people so excited and animated.
“We had to stop the questions after a while because there were just so many angry comments and questions,” he said.
Initially the government agreed to a $74 million deal to acquire the land, but withdrew its interest last week after a new report revealed the land was too contaminated.
This contamination requires $50 million in remediation costs, according to the private report.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore told the meeting she had written many letters to the Minister for Education and that there were many meetings between Council staff and the Department of Education.
“At the end of the day an agreement was reached. We discounted the price, because we have obligations under local government rate to provide facilities,” Clr Moore said.
Clr Moore told City Hub the City and the Department had already carried out contamination assessments onsite, “including soil and groundwater investigations, to determine the required remediation work needed to meet the standards under the Contaminated Land Managment Act”.
The executive director of NSW Public Schools Murat Dizdar told the meeting “it was our right not to proceed with that deal”.
He also suggested that if the site was to be purchased for $1 from Council, then the new school would have gone ahead.
Clr Moore slammed Mr Dizdar’s suggestion as “ridiculous”.
“The City estimated the remediation costs were $9.5 million, based on an agreed scope of work that substantially exceeds guidelines from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for an educational use,” Clr Moore said.
“The Department of Education is now claiming the cost would be $53 million. We have not been provided with any information to justify this ridiculous claim.”
Mr d’Anthes said a new open report would make things clear for all parties.
“We want an open report this time, perhaps ground penetrating radar, so we can know what’s down there,” he said.
The Department has refused to make the report public, but did provide some relief to the community, stating the existing school site will only be used to construct a new school.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said “the [existing] site will not be considered for a mixed use private/public venture.” But no plans have been made to ensure the community would still have access to a new childcare facility or where students would be sent once the school was to be rebuilt on its existing site.