For some 18 months the Department of Education and Communities (DEC) and the Royal Far West (RFW) have been negotiating over a piece of land which the Departments owns, right in the centre of the RFW proposed redevelopment site.
Locals believe this provides an excellent opportunity for a land swap providing much needed extra space for the exploding Manly Village Public School which has expanded to over 600 enrolments this year (on a site which is ideal for 500 students).
However negotiations with the Royal Far West have stalled with the groups failing to come to an agreement on the value of the DEC’s land.
Mr Dean White, Director of Public Schools NSW, has worked closely with the community to try to find a solution to the immediate lack of space crisis facing the primary school with estimated enrolments of up to 700 students expected in 2015, meaning an additional five classrooms will be needed.
While admitting that the land swap with RFW is unlikely to be resolved in the near future, Mr White’s Department has looked at a number of options including changing the boundaries of the catchment area for students; the use of the nearby Community Centre; and placing demountables on the playground or staff car park.
The best immediate solution would seem to be the change in the catchment boundaries, which would protect the future of the Community Centre and the amenity of students at the school. The P&C also shares this view. The Minister is expected to make an announcement over the next two weeks which direction will be taken.
In the meantime the RFW has announced that it proposes to proceed with its $45m Centre of Excellence on the site of the Elsie Hill flats (next door to the Community Centre) while continuing its operations in existing buildings until the new Centre is complete.
Mr White confirmed that the DEC is looking at leasing space in the new Centre and combining staff with the RFW, which would be a world first.
With regards to the future of the land in the centre of the RFW site he said the Department was “in no hurry”. “Our objective remains to find the best solution for both the RFW school and the Manly Village School”, he said.
Mr White added there was no interest in the proposal by the RFW that DEC support an additional storey being approved for the new Centre with the bottom floor being leased for 5-10 years to the Public School next door. This has also been rejected by the P & C and by Manly Council which recently lodged a new local environment plan (LEP) for the site reducing the height limited to below that which was approved on 18 April 2013 by the Planning Assessment Panel (PAC) under the rules of the previous State Government.
The Royal Far West has four years to start on the redevelopment of its site before the current DA expires.
Growing pains being experienced by Manly Village School has put pressure on the Department of Education with the school exploding from an initial 200 pupils to more than 600 students enrolled in the school - and growing.
It is understood that the Department of Education & Communities is undertaking 'a broad scoping exercise' (not my words!) to find ways to best accommodate future students at Manly Village School.
At one stage it was feared that the Manly Community Centre in Wentworth Street would be given notice to make way for more classrooms. However, their lease has now been extended until December 2015 which offers a reprieve, for now.
The Centre provides valuable services including information, counselling, financial and legal advice, housing assistance as well as bilingual migrant specialists, domestic violence caseworkers, and a Justice of the Peace - the name just some of the services. The current location and facilities offered by the Community Centre are considered an important part of the Manly Village. It was community-funding that contributed around $1/2million to 'save' the building which was previously in a derelict state. Numerous repairs and restorations of the MCC building have taken place over the years. This includes the restoration of the heritage hall in 1999 and the restoration of the building to its original heritage condition.
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Candy Bingham, Manly Ward Councillor on Northern Beaches Council. Background in marketing, public relations and community engagement. Author of five business books. Former Lady Mayoress of Sydney. Aka Candy Tymson.