The original design (above) with classrooms fronting the National Trust Centre, compared to the new design (below) showing the dramatically increased building form and height. Photo: Heritage Impact Statement
School infrastructure NSW has been criticised for ‘picking and choosing’ which heritage regulation to adhere to in its $53 million Fort Street Public School redevelopment program.
Fort Street Public School is one of Australia’s oldest public schools, located within the heritage listed Millers Point and Dawes Point Village Precinct.
After redevelopment plans for the school were approved last October, a modification of the plans for an extra storey has been proposed.
The modification infringes a self-imposed requirement.
School Infrastructure NSW conservation management plan for the project emphasised that the Bureau of Meteorology (MET) building must remain the tallest and most dominant building on the hill, to maintain the visual and historical relationship between surrounding heritage buildings.
The proposed 3.5m height increase will make the school the tallest building on Observatory Hill, exceeding the height of the MET.
The National Trust, based in the 1815 military hospital behind the school, will be one of the surrounding heritage buildings impacted.
Director of The National Trust David Burdon believes that while the original design appreciated the important historic settings of the area, this modification has gone too far.
“This sets a very bad precedent for the Millers Point community…Homeowners in Miller’s point are bound by some of the strictest heritage controls in the state and for the government to then just ignore their own heritage constraints and advice.
“There is a bit of pick and choose going on. But we think that the addition of an extra floor is one step too far. And it’s just such an obvious heritage intrusion for the site,” Burdon told City Hub.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education told City Hub that the primary purpose of adding an extra storey to Building J is to improve access to the MET building rooftop outdoor learning space and to support educational outcomes
Community expressed heavy opposition to the modification during the community engagement process, with all non-government organisations and the majority of public submissions objecting the proposal.
In the Department’s response to submissions, it noted that the modification would result in a “sub-optimal heritage outcome”, with the height increase dismissed as a “minor non-compliance” with the conservation management policy.
Instead, a “holistic approach to heritage management on the site” is proposed, whereby exceeding the height of the MET building is justified by removing plans to build a basement, preserving the archaeological significance of the site.
“The guideline does not state that new buildings must not exceed those of existing heritage items, but recommends that they should not, allowing flexibility to achieve the best overall heritage outcome for the site,” said School Infrastructure NSW in its response.
Burdon says that the school redevelopment can have the best of both worlds.
“I think we can protect the archaeology, but we also need to protect what’s above ground and that’s one of the key features of Observatory Hill, its historic buildings.”