A development application for a new building at Wauchope Public School and removal of an old one have been approved, despite objections.
Last year, the Department of Education announced multi-million dollar funding for a major upgrade of the school, providing new learning spaces for the school’s 750 students, replacing an old six-classroom block and removing seven demountable classrooms.
Members of Wauchope District Historical Society told a public meeting of the Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel at Port Macquarie council on Tuesday, April 10, that the 100-year-old heritage-listed school building, Block Six, should be preserved for its heritage and its historical significance.
“It was erected during the First World War when people needed hope,” said Society president, Jean Hegarty.
“We have been criticised for standing in the way of children’s education. We would never do that. Having a new school building is no guarantee of having a better education. The most important factor in a good education is the teacher, not the building.”
She said a new school on a greenfield site would have been a solution. But they were prepared to concede that there was no prospect of the old building being preserved at the school, and urged the council to have it relocated elsewhere in Wauchope for public use.
“Wauchope, known as the Timbertown, has retained very few of its original timber buildings,” Mrs Hegarty told the meeting.
The historical society’s treasurer, Jeannette Rainbow, said Wauchope Public School will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year.
“As a scripture teacher in the school for over 20 years, I have never felt these buildings were inadequate. We are never going to see the quality of workmanship and materials that make these classrooms unique,” she told the meeting.
Fiona Tierney from the council said the initial report on the project didn’t provide enough information and an additional report outlined the reasons and drawbacks for keeping the old building.
Patrick Daly, project manager of APP for the Department of Education said it was a significant project for the school and a great benefit for current and future students. He said heritage had been a significant concern, with a lot of siting options considered for Block Six, which had significant limitations.
He said there were major structural issues, including chimneys at risk of collapse and said there was asbestos in the building.
“Where the demountables are located is the only option for construction. The principal and the parents would agree that Wauchope Public School has some exceptional teachers but they are very limited by their premises,” he told the planning panel.
“They need these new facilities, and are very limited by retaining Block Six.”
Mr Daly said two contamination hot spots were found, and they would be capped by any new building.
Planning panel chair, Gary West asked him how they would salvage the building and relocate it and offer it to the community. Mr Daly said the building would be dismantled and key elements like sash windows would be salvaged.
“The relocation is trickier. Engineers will assess if it can be relocated. It’s a fairly extensive exercise to brace the building and move it. I cannot say for certain whether, structurally, it can be moved,” he said.
Jean Hegarty told the panel that the Gateway area beside the railway station in Wauchope was a possible site for relocation.
“We think it’s a very important part of the streetscape of Wauchope School. We feel it’s a valuable asset to the community, but the parents don’t agree. They want a new state-of-the-art school. We feel that it could be used in situ, perhaps not by the school,” said Mrs Hegarty.
Mr Daly said they could agree, provided it is structurally sound to do so, to re-locate the building.
Panel chair Gary West said he was very mindful of the strength of the arguments coming from both sides.
“I understand the emotion of this issue and the importance of heritage issues,” he said.
“I am mindful of achieving a balance of preserving as much as we can of the history and providing a safe environment for the children at the school. I hope there can be a resolution and there is good faith on the part of the Department of Education to provide as much as possible of that building in a timber town.”
Panel member Paul Drake recommended that they refuse the development application on the basis that the applicant failed to comply by not preserving heritage and historical significance. No-one seconded the recommendation and the development application was passed with four in favour, one against.