Old Dan O’Connell Hotel to become a primary school

Katie Johnson

After paying more than $3.2 million to purchase Carlton’s historic Dan O’Connell Hotel, Fitzroy Community School (FCS) has secured a permit from the City of Melbourne to build a new primary school for 85 students.

The plans for the new school, which went before the City of Melbourne’s Future Melbourne Committee on November 30, involve partial demolition and works on the heritage-listed double-storey Irish pub, which was purchased in October 2020.

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said that while the council had taken into consideration the five objections surrounding traffic, parking and noise, overall the development was a “terrific community outcome”.

“I need to say as somebody who has enjoyed a green ale at Dan O’Connell on many occasions over the years, there’s some sadness over this no longer being a pub,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said.

“But if there was any use you’d like to see a pub converted to that was going to deliver benefits to the community, I would have to say it’s educational.”

“As a parent of young children living in the inner-city myself, I know that those schools are absolutely bursting at the seams, so to have this new facility offering education to kids in our community it is really a terrific community outcome.”

To extend the building into a school, partial demolition would occur at the rear, north-west end, and facade of the building, however works are contained to later additions to the hotel.

Other works include replacing the existing glazing in all of the windows with double glazing, installing a lift and creating an additional double-storey site connected to the original building by a translucent glass wall.

After purchasing the Dan O’Connell, Fitzroy Community School (FCS) principal Tim Berryman told Inner City News back in February that he planned to preserve both the exterior and interior of the historic 136-year-old building.

“We’re absolutely planning to keep the original building, inside and out. We’re not even removing the old signage,” Mr Berryman said.

“The kids are going to be going to school in the original Dan O’Connell.”

Much like its Brunswick St campus which is based in a building constructed in the 1800s, FCS plans to work around the original room structure and keep the features which make the building distinctive.

“Old buildings have a charm to them that new buildings don’t, particularly ones which have evolved their use over time,” Mr Berryman said.

“We want to keep that gentle softness the space has, brick walls and everything.”

Objector Michael Bula, who runs a legal firm and the Consulate General of Senegal in Canning St, said that the building was “totally inappropriate for any school of that nature”.

“Parking will be a very major issue as the small area of Canning St is already overpopulated with parking and cyclists so it hasn’t been properly thought out,” Mr Bula said.

“It’s a very dangerous location of where the school would be located on one of the busiest arterial roads in Victoria: Alexandra Parade.”

“If the council granted the permit it would have to take into account liability for these primary school children, the traffic is very, very heavy.”

Mr Bula also said that waste and noise issues would become an issue for the surrounding residences and businesses.

“There will be major noise levels in a small space of the specific property, 100 children and 12 staff will make noise morning, mid-morning, lunch time and when leaving and noise issues for neighbouring properties hasn’t been taken into account,” Mr Bula said.

“A school in an old pub is a challenge and I think the council needs to take that into account.”

In response to objections, the council added discretionary height controls to the new classrooms, to ensure they were below the existing west elevation eaves gutter.

They also imposed a condition on the permit which reduced student numbers to 85 down from the proposed 110, and 10 staff down from 12.

The Deputy Lord Mayor said that while the land use was “perfectly permissible” from a planning perspective, the council would commission further traffic studies to ensure amenity wasn’t impacted.

“This is a part of the city that I know very well, I know that the Canning St bike lane – you could call it a bike freeway – is possibly the most popular bike route in the city and in the morning there are literally hundreds if not thousands of cyclists coming through there,” Cr Reece said.

“It’s also the case that Princes St is just not feasible for parent drop-offs, so we are going to see Canning St on the south side of Alexander parade probably become a drop-off area and I do think we need to have some deep thinking by the city around traffic in that area.”

Cr Rohan Leppert said that while heritage should be taken into consideration it should not impact the school from functioning properly.

“We should agree with the heritage authority and their recommendations on how to keep the integrity of the significant greater heritage building intact, but this is a redevelopment and there is an extension proposed, so setting back the glass element between the old and the new buildings to distinguish between them is sensible, Cr Leppert said.

“But when we do build that extension, we need to make sure that any reduction in height that gives the heritage host some prominence, doesn’t compromise the proposed used to too great an extent.”

Cr Reece said that overall the community would greatly benefit from the school.

“We have heard the objections of some of the local residents and businesses around this application, but at the end of the day I think there is very much an overarching policy decision here that says we welcome schools and children into our neighbourhoods,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said.

“We all know the inner city is a great place to live and work … and also raise a family.” •

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