BY CHRISTOPHER HARRIS
The local community has rejected the NSW Government’s latest plan for the Ultimo Public School, saying the proposal was “plugging holes” and “a band aid that would peel off quickly”.
The governmentt proposes to demolish the 15 year old school building and replace it with a larger capacity structure for 700 students.
In a meeting on July 22, parents and citizens reached a consensus that it would not meet the needs of the rapidly growing area and the anticipated population growth of young families.
Earlier this year, the state government back flipped on a promise before the election to remediate a nearby Wattle Street site of chemicals and build a school for 1000 students because of high costs.
It was subsequently revealed that the government had ignored advice from an independent consultant to adopt a remediation option costing $31 million and instead cited a $53 million option as too expensive.
City of Sydney Council, who own the Wattle St site, agreed to sell it to the state government at the reduced price of $74 million because of the remediation costs.
President of the Ultimo Public School Parents & Citizens Association (P&C) Janine Barrett said the group stood with the local community to ensure the future viability of the school.
“We call on the department to fulfil their promise to future proof the educational needs of our community and desist in railroading our community into a development that we have rejected outright for three years,” Ms Barrett said.
President of Pyrmont Community Group Jean Stuart said that the City of Sydney should be the community’s advocate and bring key players back to the negotiating table.
“We need that site for the social needs of the community, and council should be thinking of a way through it,” Ms Stuart said.
“We’re putting it forward very strongly, and we’re calling for their attention. The council should be taking the initiative now and its an extremely important matter of education.”
“There’s no way we’ll be walking away from this school. The community is outraged because it is the government’s responsibility and they have vastly underestimated the number of children who live in Pyrmont and Ultimo,” she said.
Member of Ultimo Public Schools P&C Bill d’Anthes said the latest proposal was “another slap in the face” for the suburb. “There are about 700 new apartments going up at the moment, and they are going to have families in them who
are going to have children that have to go to school,” Mr d’Anthes said.
He believes the problem is just one example of what is happening to schools statewide.
“Sure these schools are going to cost money, but there are going to cost more because they have sold Department of Education land,” he said.
“They’re looking at short term solutions that are band aids that are going to peel off quickly. This isn’t a one government failing. The previous government didn’t take into account the needs for infrastructure either.”
“We’re talking about civil disobedience if they try and pull down the school. A lot of people who live in the area are angry about it and most of them are elderly people, They are concerned for the next generation. The next step is to force the government back to the negotiating table.”
The imminent development of the nearby Bays Precinct is expected to bring thousands more residents into the area.
In a statement to City Hub, a Department of Education spokesperson said the department remained committed to working with the community.
“Independent assessment of the proposed site owned by the City of Sydney revealed that remediation of toxic waste on the land to the standard necessary to protect the health of students, staff and visitors could cost $53 million,” the spokesperson said.
“This cost, the cost of acquiring the site and the expense of building a new school and relocating from the current site would total as much as $177 million. The cost of building a new primary school is generally between $15 million to $30 million.”
“In addition to a new Ultimo Public School, the Department is undertaking strategic asset planning for the cluster of seven local schools, which Ultimo Public School is a part of, to increase capacity across the cluster to cater for student numbers out to 2031.”
Independent member for Sydney Alex Greenwich said that the government had “wasted” much goodwill and work put into finding a new school site and had “betrayed” the local community.
“The current proposal on the existing constrained site does not address long term need,” Mr Greenwich said. I support the community’s call for the government to go back to the drawing board with the council and the community. We urgently need a new school that is big enough to meet needs into the future.”
“So far the government seems to be following through on the commitment for a new high school for the inner city. I’ll continue to work with the minister and department to get the schools we need.”