15 June 2023

$22 million allocated for public school improvements as part of annual funding program

| Claire Fenwicke
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primary school students

Evatt Primary School principal Michael Hatswell and Year 6 students Sophie, Matt, Lincoln, Zach and Indiana speaking with Education Minister Yvette Berry about the school’s planned upgrades. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Toilet upgrades and all-weather teaching spaces are the main projects sharing in more than $22 million as part of an annual infrastructure renewal program.

The ACT Government has announced the 51 successful projects that will benefit from the 2023/24 round of the Public School Infrastructure Renewal Program, with a pool of money totalling $22.181 million.

The projects are spread across 37 schools, which include nine schools each in the Belconnen and Tuggeranong regions, eight in the north/Gungahlin region, and 11 in the south/Weston region.

This includes Evatt Primary School, which has received $900,000 for landscaping, toilet upgrades and improvements to specialist classrooms for lessons such as science and art.

Principal Michael Hatswell said they already had the building space for a specialised STEM and science area, and now this money could be used to fit it all out.

“There’s existing walls, so the space exists, but it’s being fitted out as a purpose-built learning space with a focus on STEM and science,” he said.

“[It’s about] really having that enriched environment for the kids to be immersed in when they’re experiencing that.”

It will be a space to hold those lessons that wouldn’t be suitable in a regular classroom, such as large-scale construction art projects or marble runs.

The room could be used by the community as well.

“If we had, for example, a parent wanting to come and do a pottery class of an afternoon or a weekend, that’s a beautiful space to do that. If they went into an existing classroom with little kids’ desks and carpet, that’s probably not the most ideal space,” Mr Hatswell said.

“At the moment we run a range of specialist programs throughout the school, and the teachers do that as best they can in the classrooms they have, but having a purpose-built space for that will be really exciting.”

The funds will also be used for landscaping upgrades, as well as improving staff and student toilets, which are also used by the school’s weekend all-access programs such as Abilities Unlimited Australia activities.

“We have about 130 kids with additional needs coming in on the weekends and utilising that space … so that’s really timely for us,” Mr Hatswell said.

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Evatt Primary School isn’t the only place that has received money for upgrades in the program.

A “safe all-weather teaching and learning space” for Birrigai Outdoor School is the most expensive project receiving funding, with $800,000 allocated.

The school also received $600,000 for inclusive upgrades to footpaths, access ramps and wheelchair access, and $100,000 to update its signage.

Overall, a total of $2.9 million has been allocated to outdoor learning areas or shade structures in this round of the program, with many schools citing the need for shaded areas for play in a range of weather conditions and needing more room as enrolments grow.

While $2.8 million has been given to schools needing either staff or student toilet upgrades.

Mt Rogers Primary School’s submission noted its staff toilets were last upgraded in 1973 (when it first opened at Melba Primary), and both Farrer Primary School and Gilmore Primary School’s submissions stated their staff toilets were 50 years old.

Other projects receiving funding include $250,000 to Lyneham High School to replace its bike enclosure fencing, $200,000 to install covered walkways at Namadgi School, and $750,000 to Telopea Park School to allow for expansion, given its primary office and sick bay space are “far too small to function adequately”.

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Education Minister Yvette Berry said it was part of the government’s election commitment to deliver $99 million in public school upgrades across the Capital in the four-year program.

“ACT public schools are continually being upgraded to ensure that all students can take full advantage of educational opportunities,” she said.

“Infrastructure improvement projects include improved classrooms, new and upgraded outdoor learning areas, new bike storage, new and upgraded walkways and access ramps, landscaping works, improved staff facilities and new school signage.”

She said while the Education Directorate also identifies other funding priorities for schools such as new roofs, this program provided a chance for schools to put in a wish list of what they wanted at certain times.

This enabled the schools to prioritise what they wanted money to go towards first and foremost.

“Yes some of our school infrastructure is really old … so those schools will continuously need upgrades and refurbs, but that doesn’t mean that the facilities that they have aren’t fit-for-purpose, but an upgrade is always nice,” Ms Berry said.

Mr Hatswell said while toilets at Evatt Primary School were part of this round, they hadn’t applied to have them upgraded before as they had other priorities.

“Knowing those spaces have had their turn in being upgraded, it’s now time to have [the other amenities] done,” he said. “It’s always a balancing act.”

The next and final round of the program opens in September.

The full list of Public School Infrastructure Renewal Program projects for 2023-24 can be found online.

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How about the ACT government actually do something to stop Worksafe closing schools like they did at Calwell High and almost did at Kambah Namadgi. This is education window dressing not actually fixing our education issues.

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