Community triumphs: North Melbourne Hill Primary School to become second campus of North Melbourne Primary School
In a massive win for the community, the Victorian Government has agreed to make the proposed North Melbourne Hill Primary School (NMHPS) a second campus of the existing primary school.
The decision comes after years of campaigning by parents and residents in North Melbourne, who argued the government’s original decision to create a standalone school would divide the community as well as deprive students of outdoor space and shared facilities.
Parent of current and former NMPS students and community supporter, Megan Cusack, said she was “lost for words”.
"We are overjoyed and grateful for the recent decision to make the new school a second campus of North Melbourne Primary School – in fact, we were lost for words when we were first informed,” she said.
“It is truly the best outcome for the community – it will ensure the inclusive, diverse and vibrant community spirit we love in North Melbourne will continue to grow, rather than be divided.”
In a statement, a Department of Education and Training (DET) spokesperson confirmed the new campus, formerly NMHPS, would become part of NMPS and said the new zoning would be released in 2022 ahead of opening in 2023.
“During consultation, the community shared with the department that they are keen to make the most of the unique opportunity offered by the proximity of the two school sites – including equitable access to the contemporary facilities the new building will provide,” the spokesperson said.
“By expanding the capacity of North Melbourne Primary School, the school will be able to cater for significant enrolment growth over the coming years.”
“How the campuses will be managed is still under discussion.”
Community pressure for one school
In 2016, the government announced a new school for North Melbourne.
Since then, a group of North Melbourne parents and residents have been gunning for a merger with the existing primary school.
As recently as late March after extensive talks with DET, community members said the government had refused to budge from its position that NMHPS would operate as an entirely independent school to NMPS.
Curzon St was earmarked to become the boundary between the two schools, with the new school taking in students from west of the divide, including the new Arden precinct and part of Flemington, the community group was told.
In addition, the department informed the group only those in Parkville and part of North Melbourne would be zoned to NMPS.
At a meeting in March, parent and community member Kirsty Harvison said the previous decision to keep NMHPS separate had bypassed the normal planning process of going through the City of Melbourne and community consultation.
“We're concerned the current division of school boundaries will divide our community into the haves and have nots,” Ms Harvison said at the time.
“In terms of engagement, there's been no true engagement with the school community, the council, the North and West Melbourne Association, and the Project Abbotsford Street group.”
“There's been no engagement with the public housing towers either.”
Ms Harvison said the Department had indicated that a combined school would be too large for one person to manage the associated finances.
The new six-level campus, which includes a kindergarten, was planned to cater for 525 students initially, growing to 800 students in five years.
However, further details about the new campus have not yet been released.
Located between Molesworth and Haines streets, the new campus will be situated 225 metres away from NMPS according to the plans, with construction starting in May this year and finishing up in 2023.
Benefits of a combined school
Combining the new school with NMPS as a second campus maintains the unique community spirit and unlocks leadership and growth opportunities for students and staff, the community group said.
The merger also allows shared facilities for both schools from day one and eases pressure on open spaces such as Pleasance Gardens, which would have been used by the new school.
It also increases efficiency by piggybacking on existing leadership structures, the group said.
Speaking about the formerly independent NMHPS, West Melbourne resident Melinda Green, who has a daughter in Grade 3 at NMPS, said it would be difficult to “unbuild a poor decision”.
“I think better decisions could have been made in the first place, and I think this quick decision is a poor one for the community and we feel our children will be let down by the government by not having enough outdoor space,” Ms Green said.
Ms Harvison said although unclear communication from the Department about the school had been a hallmark of the previous five years, she said the recent decision was “fantastic”.
Is there enough space at the second campus?
Parent and architect, Paul von Chrismar, told the meeting in March that by his calculations with 575 students, NMHPS would only have 6.5 sqm per child, compared to Burnside Primary School (BPS), which would have 40 sqm per child.
Although the capacity for the new campus may change, state government regulations on outdoor space for childcare age kids requires seven sqm for each child.
“You can't discount the affect that has on students,” he said prior to the government’s decision to merge the schools.
“The big picture is that it affects the children who will be going there.”
Mr von Chrismar selected BPS as a comparison to NMHPS because it had a similar number of students under the current government program for construction of new schools.
“It could be argued that Burnside is all on one level due to the availability of land out in the west, however it is harder to argue that kids out in Burnside need 10 times as much outdoor space per child than our kids in North Melbourne,” he said.
“The point, as we know, is this site in NM is just not suitable for more than 250 kids, or half a school.”