Docklands Primary at capacity, set to use shopping centre for classrooms
Docklands Primary School is at capacity just over two years since opening and will be forced to move classes into empty retail space at The District Docklands shopping centre from July.
The state government admitted it had underestimated student numbers in the local area and the school, which opened in 2021, already had more enrolments than its 525-student capacity.
In a significant development, the government was set to convert nearby vacant shopfront space into a temporary campus for hundreds of students from Term 3.
It is understood the new campus may simply feature classrooms and toilets, with no specialist learning or play spaces, and students would move between the school and shopping centre during the day.
One parent and former school council member privy to discussions with the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA) and Department of Education said she and others held concerns about the suitability of the space.
Mary Masters detailed the issues with Docklands News and said that the proposed temporary campus — set to feature nine classrooms, which could house 225 students — was not large enough, nor would it have a private entrance at this stage, and that it was actually unfit for education purposes.
“This year, every single available space at our school is being used for learning. Our library, art room and ‘wet rooms’ have all been turned into permanent class spaces to handle enrolment,” she said.
“The VSBA have said, ‘right, here’s how you fit nine classrooms into this floorplan’ [at The District], and haven’t really considered that there are huge concrete poles in the middle of the classrooms obscuring students’ view … if it’s going to be in a shopping centre, the least they could do is make it an appropriate learning space.”
Ms Masters said she and others “don’t disagree that there has to be a temporary solution”, and while far from ideal, they would not oppose the option of moving classes to the nearby shopping centre.
However, she said the floorspace needed to be larger than proposed, have an entrance separate from the public concourse, and contain some specialist learning areas.
“The space that’s being proposed is really quite upsetting that it’s quite a small space when The District has so much vacancy. The District have said that they are willing to give more space, they want better outcomes for this temporary campus, but of course they’re not willing to compromise on their commercial rents … it is short-changing our kids and their education and wellbeing, when there is so much space at The District that [the government] could rent, and they’re just saying ‘we don’t have the money’. It just doesn’t pass the pub test, that there is space available and they’re choosing not to spend the money for the kids’ needs.”
A Department of Education spokesperson admitted to Docklands News that it had underestimated enrolment numbers at the school but said the new space would not compromise education outcomes.
“Strong demand has exceeded forecasted needs for Docklands PS, with a second temporary campus to ensure the school continues to support local families planned for the beginning of Term 3, 2023,” the spokesperson said.
“The campus is being designed and delivered in close consultation with the school leadership team, to ensure it delivers the same strong learning outcomes experienced on the main campus.”
A Department assessment of the site for operational, security and infrastructure needs had found that the location of the additional campus was suitable for education.
It said the new campus was required on a temporary basis until additional capacity was generated within the local network of new nearby schools; firstly, a new North Melbourne Primary School campus (set to open within months) and the future development of additional primary schools within Fishermans Bend.
Ms Masters said it was evident from the outset that the school, located on Little Docklands Drive, was not going to be big enough going forward.
“It was apparent to the school community on our first day,” she said.
“One hundred and ten preps enrolled, and we all thought ‘what, what do you mean? Is there going to be 110 preps every year?’ And yes, there has been.”
She said that despite increasing demand on space within Docklands Primary, those involved had created a “fantastic school”, and she knows of students remaining at the school even when parents moved out of Docklands.
Ms Masters said their requests for the temporary campus were straightforward: “If some of our school children must learn off-site away from their school community, then we have a duty of care to ensure they feel safe and do not receive a compromised education.”
A statement from The District Docklands read: “The District Docklands is an integral part of the Docklands community and has responded to relevant stakeholders and decision makers with regard to this matter. We are available to support our community where required.” •