While locals were busy preparing for Christmas, the controversial development application for the Manly Vale Primary School was approved 3 to 2, by the Sydney North Planning Panel.
From a community school of 460 students to a 'super' school of 1,000 students. Is this the right location?
A further 3.65ha of bush at Manly Dam Reserve is to be lost to make way for a mega school, despite the fact that planners believe the new school could be built on the existing footprint, using two and three storey classrooms (as has been done successfully at Harbord Primary).
The former Warringah Council was strongly opposed to the plans in its current form, and Northern Beaches Council Administrator, Dick Perrsons, campaigned strongly against the loss of bushland.
The three year battle has seen the school community divided. Supporters of the $22.7 million development, which would make room for 1000 students on the site, have praised the decision as a win for education.
Parent Stephen Hancock in a previous statement on this blog (13/3/16) said that since getting unprecedented funding in the 2014 state budget, this project has been through an extensive two year design process ensuring the dilapidated 60 year old facilities are updated to a genuine 21st century learning environment.
Those against, including the Save Manly Dam group and the former Principal of the school, David Tribe, believe the loss of precious bushland is unnecessary. Furthermore they claim the site is not suitable for such a large school population due to inadequate local streets, and concerns regarding the evacuation of students should a bush fire occur.
At the core of the issue is the fact no one can argue with. The existing 60 year old school is dilapidated and badly in need of an upgrade. Students are currently housed in demountables, with 65% in temporary accommodation. All the other facilities such as library, canteen, hall and toilets are inadequate and not acceptable in their current condition.
It is understood that the Department of Education is about to call tenders for the new development. But with the appointment this week of Rob Stokes (Member for Pittwater) as the new Minister for Education, there is a slim chance that the Northern Beaches Council could have the matter reviewed, due to ongoing planning concerns.
A proposal to super-size Manly Vale Public School has been knocked back by Warringah Council and provoked widespread opposition from the local community.
The Education Department plans to build a “super school” on the bushland site, not far from Manly Dam.
The new school would cost $23 million and cater for 1000 pupils - a huge jump from the 460 currently enrolled.
To accommodate the increase, new classrooms, offices, a library, and a canteen and hall will be built on the site.
More than 300 trees will be removed, and parts of Manly War Memorial Park will have to be cleared for bushfire protection. The current school is known for its bushland environment which will be decimated if this plan goes ahead.
Locals say these areas are too precious to lose and fear the development will increase pressure on endangered species that have been found in the area, including the powerful owl, eastern bent-wing bat, grey headed flying fox, and eastern pygmy possum.
Ironically the school has been a leader in environment education since the 1970s when a large nature area was put aside to help pupils learn the value of the environment and nature conservation.
While local residents recognise the need for some development at the school, where some children are housed in demountable classrooms, they say that the proposed development is far more than is needed for the local area.
But the Education Department , which says there is no room to significantly enlarge other primary schools in the area, is struggling to accommodate an ever-increasing primary school population.
The Department also claims that fauna in the area will not be significantly affected as trees and shrubs will be left to provide wildlife corridors.
The plan. which has so far attracted 100 submission and an opposing 1500-signature petition, will go before the Joint Regional Planning Panel later this year.
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.