Growing pains: special school pleads for new site

DELAYS in new buildings and a lack of outdoor space has led to “extreme overcrowding” at the Warrnambool Special Developmental School. 

Classes have moved into the staff room and the school’s hall has been taken over for storage as  teachers and parents issue fresh pleas for a brand new school to be built. 

It will be at least a month before two portables handed down from another school will be ready for classes. 

They sit empty next door at the community college because of a shortage of land at the site. 

Principal Robert Dowell said nearly half the school’s classrooms had been passed down from other schools that had been rebuilt. 

He said the sloping, landlocked site on Hyland Street ruled out any chance of expansion. 

“To me the only option is a new school. We’ve increased enrolments every year,” Mr Dowell said. 

There were just 30 student pupils at the school in 1999 but 104 enrolled for the new year this week. 

Placing a cap on numbers isn’t an option because the nearest development schools are in Portland and Cobden. 

“There’s no where else to put new buildings. We’ve got very little play space,” Mr Dowell said. 

The school council met with South West Coast MP and Premier Denis Napthine last year seeking support. 

Dr Napthine told The Standard yesterday upgrades to the school were justified, adding: “Probably the best option would be a new school”. 

“I can assure parents, teachers, staff and students that the needs of the development school are high up on my agenda for the future of Warrnambool,” Dr Napthine said. 

“I understand that enrolments are increasing. The site they’re on is a slope and it’s very difficult to put buildings on that site ... when you’re looking at Warrnambool you’re probably looking at a greenfield site.” 

He said he would discuss the matter with the education minister and the department. 

Parent and school council member Ann-Marie Day has watched the school grow over the past decade since her daughter Lilly began classes. 

“It was built for 30 students, not 104,” Ms Day said. 

“There’s no green space for any of the students — just a basketball court and a playground for some of the younger ones.” 

She said the delay over the portable would be particularly hard to manage for students with autism who rely on a stable routine. 

“It’s hard for the kids with behavioural issues. For the ones that have autism the shifting around is really disturbing for them,” she said. 

“The education there is fantastic, it’s just upsetting that the buildings don’t compare.” 

Meanwhile, the school is yet to see any money from a $220,000 grant promised to fix roofs in June last year. 

“We’ve got multiple buildings that were targeted in a report and they all leak,” Mr Dowell said. “They’ve got rust everywhere.”

School council president and former principal Ken Gale said he hoped the issue would gain traction in the state election year.

Mr Gale, who also previously served as Moyne Shire mayor, said the school took pupils from as far as Port Fairy and Nirranda.  

“We’ve been told of an area out near Wollaston that might be available,” Mr Gale said.

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