Carlton Gardens Primary fights for new classroom

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Katie Johnson

Carlton Gardens Primary School is up against Heritage Victoria and residents on Drummond St in a bid to build a four-storey classroom to accommodate growing student numbers.

The school received $10.5 million in funding in last year’s budget to go towards the building but has been unable to start construction due to heritage concerns.   

Principal Tina McDougall said that due to the sheer number of new enrolments the school was in desperate need of new classrooms.

“The kids are crammed like sardines at the moment, we have three classes in one big room,” Ms McDougall said.

“It’s disappointing the neighbours and Heritage Victoria aren’t getting behind the kids.”

The plans for the classroom were finalised by the Victorian School Building Authority in June 2020 and the architect 6 Degrees was appointed.

Construction was due to begin in January but the process was halted in August last year while Heritage Victoria assessed community objections and decided whether to grant a permit to build.

Heritage Victoria is currently assessing whether the proposed building would impact the heritage character of the “19th century streetscape” which surrounds the World Heritage Site of Carlton Gardens and the Royal Exhibition Building.

One of the main concerns listed in the Heritage Impact Statement is that the proposed modern building is too high and would be partly visible from Rathdowne St and Carlton Gardens.

They also believe the four-storey building which would create only a two-metre separation from the original Italian Gothic school building would “harm the cultural heritage significance of the place”.

However, parents at the school say the building is only marginally higher than the three-storey portable classroom that was removed in January after five years of use.

School council president Ben Jensen said that since the portable classrooms were torn down, parents had received no update as to what was going on.

“Since the classrooms have been torn down, both the kids and parents have been left in the dark about what’s going on and that creates anxiety in the local community,” Mr Jensen said.

“Teachers and school leaders have done an incredible job throughout COVID and are now under extra pressure so now is the time to support them with what they need.”

“It’s a fantastic school and everyone understands there’s going to be delays but it’s a matter of communicating what’s happening.”

Currently preps, grade one and grade two students are having classes in one large room while they wait for a decision on the new classrooms.

Ms McDougall said that since the six portable classrooms were taken away, teachers had no option but to utilise the space they had.

“When I started as principal we had 110 kids and last year we hit 467,” Ms McDougall said.

“Our enrolments are starting to grow again after COVID and we won’t have anywhere to put our new kids.”

Ms McDougall said it was particularly important for the preps to have their own space to learn since their results have “suffered” due to last year’s lockdown.

“Forty-six per cent of the current prep cohort coming out of kinder achieved the English Online bench mark, down from 100 per cent,” Ms McDougall said.

 

The younger ones really need the extra support as there’s a real difference in their social interaction and speech since being away from the school.

 

Prep teacher Mel Johns said that the behaviour of the preps was “very different” at the beginning of 2021.

“There’s been much more defiance from the kids this year and it’s taken them a long time to settle in,” Ms Johns said.

A City of Melbourne spokesperson said that the “decision on the permit application ultimately lies with Heritage Victoria”.

“In line with standard practice, Heritage Victoria has sought comment from the council regarding a heritage permit for a proposed four-storey addition at Carlton Gardens Primary School,” the spokesperson said.

“The City of Melbourne aims to strike a balance between protecting the rich heritage of our buildings and places, while also enabling our city to grow and change. Advice has been provided to Heritage Victoria for consideration.”

A Heritage Victoria spokesperson said it would be inappropriate to comment while the permit was being considered.

As principal for 12 years, Ms McDougall said she hoped to see the school continue to “grow and flourish.”

“I love my staff and the kids are gorgeous, polite, well mannered, study hard and understand the value of education,” Ms McDougall said.

“It’s such a supportive, multicultural community and a lovely environment to work in.”  •

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