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20 May 2020
BY DYLAN DE JONG
A long-running campaign to revamp and merge Warracknabeal’s public schools will finally come to fruition after the State Government pledged to finish the build.
Warracknabeal Education Precinct secured a spot in the State Government’s $2.7-billion statewide construction blitz, aimed to kick-start Victoria’s economy.
A $19.8-million commitment will go towards the final stage of the precinct, with buildings set to open in 2022.
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The funding will enable completion of a precinct for Warracknabeal Secondary College, primary and special developmental schools, with a central and consolidated administration area, gymnasium and function room.
The schools were ‘left in the dark’ when construction came to a standstill in late 2018, after $6-million in State Government funding in 2016-17.
After missing out on funding in the 2017-18 State Government budget, a parent-driven advocacy group called ‘Finish What You Started’ emerged, leading a campaign to complete the project.
Parent and campaigner Karly Kirk, who has children attending Warracknabeal Primary School, said the announcement was a massive boost for the Warracknabeal community.
“It means so much. It’s so much more than just building new school rooms, the flow-on of this could be life-changing for our community,” she said.
“I grew up in Warracknabeal, moved away and came back. I knew I’d be making some sacrifices moving here, but I didn’t think that would be my children’s education.
“I feel like that’s been amended now with this – we won’t have a school that was unsafe with so many issues.”
Mrs Kirk said she hoped the project to tie all three schools together could also potentially provide student-support services to bolster learning outcomes.
“What we want is a wrap-around of services to support families – somewhere you can get any resource you need,” she said.
“Our hope is parents and children who need extra support don’t fall through the cracks.”
Mrs Kirk said the outcome of Monday’s announcement was the result of years of collaborative planning and campaigning from the Warracknabeal and broader community.
“It’s been a community-driven project – so many people had an impact,” she said.
“Even people who don’t live in Warracknabeal anymore contributed in their own little way.”
The group’s advocating resulted in support from State Government ministers and representatives for Western Victoria, Jaala Pulford, Stuart Grimley and Andy Meddick, who visited the schools in the past year.
Member for Lowan Emma Kealy fought alongside the community for more than five years to help secure the funding.
She mentioned the precinct 132 times in State Parliament, consistently urging the government to recognise the project’s importance.
Yarriambiack Shire Council also acted as a link between the advocacy group and State Government.
Mayor Graeme Massey, a former teacher at the secondary college, has backed the project for more than a decade.
“The credit goes to our local politicians and a very keen advocacy group – they kept the profile in the public eye,” he said.
“Our role through it all was to make the conduit between the groups advocating and the elected representatives.”
Cr Massey said he expected the project would boost Warracknabeal’s economy.
“This will create employment and stimulate businesses, because people who come here to work, will stay,” he said.
“Accommodation will be provided and they’ll be buying things in town – over a two-year period.”
Warracknabeal Primary School principal Ben Tait said he anticipated construction would start towards the end of 2020.
“They want boots on the ground – I’d be surprised if the ground wasn’t broken into before the end of this year,” he said.
“We know in the current climate getting people working isn’t something for 12 months’ time, it’s for now.”
He said having the project ‘shovel ready’ would streamline the process.
“This project is costed and ready to go, otherwise it wouldn’t have been included in this round of funding,” he said. “That’s testament to the hard work and continued push from various community members and support from the ministers.”
Mr Tait said the upgraded facilities would greatly enhance the school’s ability to attract and retain staff.