The 2017 Victorian Education Infrastructure Briefing was presented by the Department of Education and Training on 11 May for industry partners involved in the design and construction of Victorian schools – the first briefing since the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA) was established in August 2016 as an entity within the Department. The event sold out well in advance reflecting great interest in VSBA activities to improve the condition of the existing school asset portfolio and provide new buildings to meet population growth.
Not since Henry Bastow commissioned the building of 600 new schools in five years in 1872, has there been a program on this scale building new schools in Victoria, said the Hon James Merlino Deputy Premier and Minister for Education. Bastow was the architect of Victoria’s first education building revolution, and rolled out 615 schools in the first five years of his appointment as Victoria’s Departmental Architect and Surveyor in 1873.
Victoria’s Education Act of 1872 required, for the first time, all children aged six to fifteen attend school.
To meet the demand of the program, Bastow designed a series of single and double storey template school buildings, and had a design competition for templates by other architects. Templates were then adapted for individual schools, to suit their size and location. Locally available stone, brick and timber were used to avoid the difficulty of transportation, and to save cost. The Department of Education owned the designs, and Bastow added Gothic flourishes that characterise 19th Century school buildings in Victoria. Large classrooms were the fashion, for repetitive wrote learning enmasse, as was the teaching style of the time, rather than individual learning.
After the initial program, hundreds of other schools were built and extended by Bastow and the Public Works Department. Many of these are on Victoria’s Heritage Register. The Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership, established in 2009 and named in recognition of Bastow’s role in establishing schools in Victoria, is located in one of his most decorative former school buildings in Queensberry Street, North Melbourne. A man with a sense of adventure and ambition, Bastow left his family home in Bridport, Dorset, England, for an architectural apprenticeship under John Hicks in Dorchester with his friend, author Thomas Hardy. The gold rush brought many people to the new colony, and Bastow immigrated to Tasmania, knowing that opportunities for architects would be great. His vision for inspiring and impressive schools, and his innovative delivery model, gives him an enduring place in education in Victoria. Bastow, a leader in education.
Opening the briefing, the Minister outlined how the government will meet the demand of the additional 90,000 students entering Victorian government schools over the next five years:
• $2.5B over three years, including the $685M in this year’s budget
• 56 new school projects in the pipeline
• 114 new upgrade projects
• over 1,000 projects modernising schools.
Departmental Secretary Gill Callister spoke about building pride in government schools, recognising the importance of the community’s relationship with schools, as well as students feeling proud of the places where they go to learn. Increasing community pride and confidence in our schools is one of the Department’s ten key targets. The built form is related closely to engagement with learning – and community pride and confidence in schools is enhanced through the design of modern schools. Ms Callister also spoke about initiatives that aim to smooth transitions from home, to early learning centres, to primary and secondary schools and to work.
Chris Keating, the VSBA’s Chief Executive Officer said that the Authority was formed to deliver schools in a different way and has a new structure involving:
• Strategy and Reform, and
As well as being built on time, on budget and of high quality, schools and their communities must be engaged in the building projects so that teachers and students are confident and proud of their schools. This is a vital part of the role of architects and builders who are dealing with schools. He noted the opportunity for enhanced delivery and efficiency, coupled with innovation, particularly for the new school projects.
New schools, new directions
Several new school projects were explained during the forum and were also on display, including:
- The new primary school in Ferrars Street South Melbourne, Victoria’s first vertical school, has been designed for 525 students. It has multipurpose community rooms, and indoor and outdoor multipurpose sports courts all accommodated in a five-storey building. The project with the City of Port Phillip embeds the community in the school, incorporating a Maternal and Child Health Centre and Early Learning Centre, and sports facilities accessible to the community out of school hours.
- Western Heights College at Geelong, in conjunction with the Council, includes community facilities:
- a Senior Citizens Centre and programs involving students with senior citizens
- school and public library collections to be combined so that public funds are only maintaining services from one building.
- Additional basketball courts at Collingwood College – presented as an example of an Education State project to transform communities with a neighbourhood hub bringing people together and engaging with newly arrived communities.
- Prahran High School, another vertical school, the biggest ever investment in a single school in Victoria ($62M) comprises four storeys plus rooftop sports facilities and recreation areas for 650 students, opening Term One 2019, adjacent to education an precinct that includes Melbourne Polytechnic and National Institute of Circus Arts. A central open atrium, outdoor spaces on each level, and a performance space are features. An education specification for the school is being developed with the New School Planning Group made up of parents, educational experts, project planners and community representatives who meet regularly with the appointed architects.
Chris Keating mentioned involvement of social enterprises as part of the new delivery program and opportunities for engaging Indigenous organisations.
The increase to the budget includes $265M for nine new school constructions; $75M to provide 220+ relocatable buildings; $195M for school upgrades and $44M for special schools and making schools inclusive.
Tom Kirkland, Executive Director Delivery for the VSBA said, ‘the higher volume of projects means higher expectations from government and more opportunities for industry.’ Mr Kirkland invited organisations that hadn’t previously worked with VSBA to become prequalified on the Construction Supplier Register (CSR) as VSBA is broadening its base of industry providers.
The ‘bundling’ of projects presents further opportunities for business in efficiency and delivery. An example discussed was incorporating design and construction of new schools, and future maintenance.
The importance of engagement
Matt Cugley Director, Communications Branch presented on effective communications and engagement with schools and communities. To deliver over 1,000 building projects across the State, and to reform infrastructure design and delivery, the VSBA is increasing its engagement with schools and the broader community. Examples include:
• more than 3,000 Victorians attended face-to-face information sessions
• 36,000 visits to pages on the VSBA website each month
• 170,000 people view VSBA content on Facebook each month.
Community engagement reports inform architects’ designs and the communications build confidence in VSBA as trusted and capable. Providers can assist by making sure that communications, particularly with the schools and the parents, are built into their project proposals.
Peter Graham, Executive Director, Strategy & Reform Branch explained the VSBA’s “ambitious plan” to remove one million square metres of medium-risk asbestos at 1,200 schools over four years, now that all identified high-risk asbestos has been removed. The state budget provided $85M including $56M to demolish buildings in poor condition and with large amounts of medium-risk asbestos and replace with modular buildings, and the balance to remove asbestos, reinstate and refurbish. Also, $16M was provided as top up funding for capital works projects impacted by large amounts of asbestos.
Perhaps the last word might be left to Tom Kirkland who says VSBA is looking out for the “positive disruptor – a firm who plays like its hair is on fire”!
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 Bridport, Dorset is the nearest town to the hamlet of Morcombelake, where CourtHeath is situated.
Photograph by Stavros Sakellaris: Located beside the entrance of the former public school 307 in Melbourne, is a statue of Henry Bastow, "a leader in education".
Written by Lyn Malone, Helen Bernard and Pauline Bernard.
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[Victorian schools, Victorian School Building Authority, Henry Bastow]