The ACT Government will deploy a fleet of new mobile demountable buildings to house students in overcrowded established schools such as those in the Inner North while it focuses on meeting the growing demand in new Gungahlin suburbs.
As part of tomorrow’s Budget, Education Minister Yvette Berry has announced two new schools in Gungahlin, money for the previously announced expansion of Franklin Early Childhood School, and extra places for Gold Creek School Senior Campus and Gungahlin College.
It also provides for feasibility studies and planning to support detailed mapping of future student demand in residential growth areas in West Belconnen, the Molonglo Valley, south-east Canberra and the Belconnen and Woden town centre areas. The Inner North also gets money for planning work to address capacity within existing schools in the City and Gateway area, which are bursting at the seams.
There will be a new K-Year 6 in Throsby, with capacity for 450 students and up to 132 preschool students, and space to accommodate future student growth. It will be ready to take students for the 2022 school year.
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A new high school in Kenny will cater for enrolments from across Gungahlin, and cater for 800 students from Years 7 to 10 with room for temporary expansion to accommodate more places if required. It is planned to open in the 2023 school year.
Franklin Early Childhood School will grow its permanent capacity to 600 students across Kindergarten to Year 6, in addition to the existing early childhood offering, while Gold Creek School Senior Campus will gain 200 extra places by the beginning of the 2022 school year through the use of demountables
There will also be 200 extra places at Gungahlin College, where new specialist science teaching facilities will be built, along with upgrades to accommodate more staff.
The demountables will also help out at Gungahlin College in 2021 but soak up demand elsewhere, with Lyneham High and Hawker Primary to be the first to receive them. Ms Berry said they would help the Directorate respond quickly to increased enrolments across Canberra, delivering a further 350 places.
There are also pressure points in Belconnen, Woden and Weston Creek where several schools are at capacity but the Inner North’s school populations are booming even before the influx of new residents with the development of the Northbourne Corridor, and the situation appears to have slipped under the radar.
The Budget acknowledges this but some say the Inner North growth has caught the Government on the hop and it is trying to manage the situation through manipulating the Priority Enrolment Areas.
An Inner North parent says a baby boom, along with new development, is flowing through to fill schools to bursting point.
The parent says feeder primary schools such as North Ainslie have doubled in size since the current Year 7 cohort started school, partly due to changing demographics and new areas such as New Watson, in effect a suburb in its own right but without infrastructure.
North Ainslie has gone from two classes in each year to four while Majura in Watson has five kindergarten classes.
While there may be a need for a new school in the Inner North, the growing area is running out of sites, with the former Downer Primary school soon to be made into units and the old Watson High site set to be developed.
But the Government rejected claims of overcrowding in the Inner North saying primary schools are currently using less than 80 per cent of their available school capacity in 2019.
A spokesperson said the feasibility studies would be conducted over the next two years and examine a range of options for responding to demand, including changes to priority enrolment areas and/or more active management of enrolment policy, as well as a range of temporary and permanent infrastructure.
The Government was also working to gain a stronger understanding of future development and occupancy trends, including how many families will choose to live in multi-unit developments increase demand for schools over time.
“As well as managing ‘out of area’ enrolments more actively at schools in this region for 2020, the government may investigate opportunities for further expansion on existing school sites in the area, in consultation with the community and schools,” the spokesperson said.
Last year the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Association even floated the idea of a vertical or multi-storey school in the Inner North as a possible solution.
Council executive officer Terry Sanders welcomed the new schools in Gungahlin and the strategic planning announcements for other areas.
Mr Sanders said the demountables, which were of a better standard than some of the actual classrooms, were a good short to medium-term solution.
“We’re certainly looking to see what longer-term plans they’ve got for the whole of the inner area,” he said.