Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Rebuilding of a Primary School

Middle Kinglake Primary School (MKPS) was destroyed in the Black Saturday bushfires that hit the Kinglake Ranges. The full devestation of those fires is difficult to fully comprehend, even to this day, when you consider the lives lost, the destruction of such a large number of homes, businesses, community assets, and the turmoil, grief and stress that the fires caused to so many people.

My two boys are students at MKPS. Ben, my youngest, had been in Grade Prep for all of one week when the fires destroyed the school. Here is what part of the school looked like before the fires.

The school itself was established in 1898 (as confirmed from the MKPS School Song). Until relatively recent times, the student population had been fairly small (there was even threats of closure during the early years of the Kennett era), and since my involvement with the school in 2006, student numbers had been steadily increasing. The school enjoyed a good reputation as a result of the hard work of then principal Ed Gill (principal for 20+ years) and following his retirement by the current principal, Janette Cook, together with the many fantastic teachers, aides, staff, parents and friends that make up the school community at MKPS.

Due to the increase in numbers in the years preceding the fires, the school's classrooms were mostly in portables. School Council had spent considerable time trying to work out a Master Plan that would allow for growth on land that was steep, and expensive to develop to accommodate more students.

The fires on Black Saturday completely destroyed the school buildings, and pretty much everything else on that block of land.

Temporary solutions were provided after the fire that included use of facilities at either Epping or Kinglake and by the start of second term temporary facilities had been built on land located at the Kinglake Memorial Reserve, right next to the football oval.  These facilities allowed the school to regroup as one community, and provided structures that in some way were superior to the buildings that were burnt to the ground.

Still, good as they were, these were only temporary facilities and the school would be rebuilt (The Prime Minister himself made that pledge). 

I mention all this because yesterday we celebrated the official reopening of the school (The school was ready for the first day of school on the 4th Feb). The State Ministers for Education (Martin Dixon) and Children & Early Childhood Development (Wendy Lovell) attended a small formal ceremony to mark the event. Channel 10 News were good enough to attend the event, and to screen the report last night.

The school is not at the old site. Thanks to the generosity of one of the local farmers and their donation of land, the school has been rebuilt on a much larger, and more usable site. The site also accommodate the new Childcare Centre/Kindergarten/Maternal Health Centre and also has a large multi purpose building, courtesy of the BER (Federally funded).

The facilities are a world away from those the school had access to pre fires. The artist's impression of the grounds are shown below (the school is in the middle, up the back. The multi purpose hall is on the left and the early childhood centre is on the right). And the artist's impression ended up being pretty spot on.

The school website shows the construction of the school and the hall on timelapse. Look out for the snow days. The weather threw everything at the builders, and they still completed construction on time.

Now I could go on an on about the living wall, the running track, the undercover courts, the interactive whiteboards, the open plan of the school rooms, the music and art rooms etc etc, but I wont. You get the idea that this is a pretty special place. And that's just the facilities. With the same great bunch of people working there, this is one of the finest schools in the state.

Thanks heaps to the school reconstruction committee for their incredible hard work in getting the school rebuilt. This is something that our community can be proud of, as these facilities will only make it easier for our kids to get the education they deserve.

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