Perth Modern parents mobilise against ill-conceived plan
Labor fails to send a spokesperson to speak at parent forum
Level of public support for affected students is rising
Parents at Perth Modern School, the State’s sole academically selective school, are up in arms at WA Labor’s plan to move them from the current site at Roberts Road to a skyscraper in the city. Labor proposes to name the new school “Perth Academic College”.
A meeting at North Perth Bowling Club was held last night.
- Peter Collier MLC, Minister for Education.
- Mike Nahan, Treasurer,
- Michael Sutherland MLA, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and member for Mt Lawley,
- Ms Eleni Evangel MLA, Member for Perth,
- Alison Xamon, MLC, Education spokesperson for the Greens.
- Julie Matheson and Andrew Mangano (Julie Matheson for Western Australia Party).
- Representing One Nation, Pauline Hanson gave an apology for being unable to attend but is supportive saying: “Schools were not meant to be offices. Kids need a balance of outdoor activities on ovals and in playgrounds as well as in the classroom.”
All the panel speakers discussed their opposition to Labor’s proposal. Labor was invited but failed to send a representative. All other major parties oppose the plan to put children as young as 11 into a skyscraper school, something that would be a first for public education in Australia. Questions were raised about physical and mental health issues, traffic congestion, security, safety, funding and legal matters.
“Why put 1,500 students into the most crowded place in Perth?”
“Students are already at risk of eye damage (lifelong myopia) from spending too long indoors, this, surely, will only make it worse?”
“Green space and nature is increasingly seen as important for mental health. Teen years are risky years to cut children off from this buffer on a high stress time in their lives”.
“What were the Labor Party thinking? 1,500 students can’t get fit and eat lunch on a roof?”
“If five-star hotels can’t afford green space on the roof, why is the WA Department of Education thinking of spending taxpayer funds renting expensive office space and putting greenery where expensive hotels don’t? This is madness.”
From Peter Collier:
Labor are creating an issue where there is none to get a front page headline. There is no problem, we have solved it already.
They have not got a commitment to Mt Lawley Senior High. They will be 750 places down by 2020 already.
They will need 2,500 spaces at the local catchment form of Perth Modern School in 2020, but it has only 1,300 spaces at the moment. Two years later they will need 3,000 spaces.
From the Treasurer, Mike Nahan:
“Every hour 1,500 students get up and move. I was told you would have to have elevators like they have on aircraft carriers” – Mike Nahan
“The whole thing at a minimum would be $150 -160 million dollars” – Mike Nahan
There are no playing fields, and there’s no parking. Are you going to want your 12 year old to wait by the train station, next to Northbridge, at 5pm at night?” – Mike Nahan
“If you build a school there you have to sign a 30 year lease. Otherwise who is going to build a purpose built building there and rent it out for five years?” – Mike Nahan
The Greens are very concerned about the lack of consultation, the lack of planning that has occurred, there are quite serious logistical issues that have been raised… including that this school is going to be rented…, there is still too much that is unknown.
It is understood that Sue Ellery MLC, Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House and Shadow Minister for Education, met with a representative group of parents over the weekend. Said one attendee,
“It is clear that Labor intends to proceed with this plan but it seems that they are realising that the tower is a bad solution. We will continue to engage but we will fight if need be. The level of anger is huge. This isn’t just about education – it is also about health: there are mental health issues about putting kids in high rises; child obesity is an issue when kids don’t have an oval”.
Parents and students were out in force over the holiday weekend: letterbox dropping in marginal seats, a significant presence at events in the city such as the Hyde Park Fair. Said one parent “I have been surprised at how a simple message such as building schools with ovals, not in tower blocks, is resonating with parents and the broader community”.
Labor proposes to develop “Perth Academic College”, occupying the top storeys of a 25 storey building located on a lot at Perth City Link. The project is to be funded by diverting funds that have been allocated to the City Beach School Project. To accommodate the numbers required up to 18 storeys may be required.
Perth Modern has over 1300 pupils and all the academic, sporting and ancillary facilities that one would expect of a school. Additionally its alumni and community have fund raised to add to the asset base: most notably the “Raise the Roof” campaign to fund a multi-purpose auditorium and the new Tyler McCusker Sports Centre. So far no detail has been forthcoming as to how Perth Academic College will provide complementary and replacement facilities for its 1500 student planned intake.
Feasibility of timing, funding, cost estimates
It is proposed that the new school will be occupied in 2020. This will be built within the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority Perth City Link development. Even if a preferred developer has been identified by the MRA (Perth Academic College will occupy leased space), there will then have to be discussions with the developer to ensure that the proposed space is suitable for the use proposed. Given the stop-start nature of the site development at Elizabeth Quay, there is a question mark as to whether any such process can be completed in 2017.This would then put pressure on the proposed 2020 opening. The apparent timeline of this project is ambitious and, with proposed funding only through until 2021 (the term of a new parliament), there is a danger that an outgoing Labor government in 2021 could bequeath an unwanted lease obligation to a new government.
So far all that is known as to cost is Labor’s plan to divert funds from the current government’s City Beach School project. The $45m would be spent as $25m on fitout and the balance to meet lease obligations until 2021. $60m has been earmarked by the current government for City Beach. Labor has not said what it will do with the $15m saved. However without independent cost estimates it is impossible to know what the fitout cost will be nor what expected leasing costs. Given the unique nature of the facility, it is likely that fitout costs will be high (for instance, to accommodate air extraction from science laboratories) and – worse – because sports and performance facilities require high ceilings, the floor to ceiling slab heights are likely to be non-standard – making the building less attractive to future tenants and hence reducing the developer’s profit (causing him to charge a higher rental). Unlike office workers, school children are frequently in motion – from classroom to classroom, classroom to break etc. There will be high occupancy costs due to wear and tear and electricity usage.
An education policy based on winning marginal seats?
Labor has identified this as its preferred solution to the crowded schools of the Western Suburbs. The Liberal party is crying foul that it is about winning the seats of Perth and Mount Lawley (held by the Liberals by 2.6% and 9.4% respectively). WA Labor may have done its own internal analysis of the merits of the project proposed but that will need to be confirmed by public servants in the departments of Education and Treasury or Finance since it is they that will need to operate the school and will also need to deliver the fitout. This will take time to assess. And best practice suggests that it should be done prior to going to the market for commercial developers to propose solutions – otherwise government risks negotiating from a position of weakness or, worse, accepting a proposal that is less than optimal. To protect against this, the Department of Treasury in Western Australia publishes its Strategic Assessment Management Framework (SAMF). SAMF is designed to ensure a “sound basis for decisions”. SAMF is a disciplined approach that involves a Business Case and a robust process for monitoring delivery and benefits in use. There is no SAMF Business Case for Perth Academic College.
Successful projects need consultation: there has been no consultation with the affected student and school community regarding Labor’s proposal. Additionally, with that same community having raised funds over many years for asset improvements, there will be an expropriation of those assets if this proposal continues. This will raise all manner of questions in the minds of those currently fundraising in other schools and for other worthy causes – if there is no respect of legacy endowments, gifts and donations, there will be a commensurate disincentive to undertake these activities in the future: all will be poorer for it.
Perth Modern School is a wonderful educational institution with a proud history and much to offer. Whoever is elected, they have an obligation to be a good steward of public assets and also respect the wishes of those affected. Consultation is a key part of our democratic process: with no consultation, no weight has been applied to the wishes of the Perth Modern school community. Nor does there appear to have been active consultation with other affected school communities so far – just a presumption that they will support the proposal. Labor needs to publish the rationale for its proposal and to put it to independent assessment.
Further information, contact Emma Gregory (use the CONTACT for at the website, or open the PDF here. )