SALE and District Specialist School was officially opened last Thursday, with a community celebration honouring the project’s hundreds of contributors.
Principal Shelagh Donegan detailed the 10-year journey from an over-capacity school stretched across three campuses to the new state-of-the-art facility, which opened to students for term one this year.
The $13.3 million upgrade, with capacity for 144 students, included a new campus on greenfield land, with an oval, bike track, improved bus and parking facilities, dedicated classroom buildings for primary, junior secondary, and senior secondary students, and a building with a gymnasium, music room, kitchen classroom, and much more.
There are also outdoor areas for each room, a bike path, and wheelchair-accessible cubbies and swings.
Playgrounds have begun to be installed, with plans for sensory gardens and a veggie patch.
Students have settled in well, according to Ms Donegan.
“We’ve got built for purpose facilities, indoor and outdoor learning spaces that just create so many opportunities we’ve never had before, and for the wider community, the school’s built for 144, so we can cater for students as they come along instead of having waiting lists,” she explained.
“The kids are absolutely loving it, they’ve got more space in their individual playgrounds than we did in the whole school in the past settings — we’ve still got to put in place some equipment, and that will develop as the school grows.
“Many of the students who had quite anxious behaviours have seen those behaviours visibly reduce.”
New School Parent Action Group representative Jane Nash agreed, noting how well the facilities are being used.
“It’s just so fantastic to see the community be involved in this celebration, because it’s been a long time coming, and now it’s being used as it should be — our students are now reaping the benefits,” she said.
“Just seeing smiles on faces — my son attends here, and he’s now actually wanting to go to school, he’s jumping on the bus quite happily, whereas before it was a bit of a challenge.
“There’s a bit more interaction, and an incentive for them now, for my son at least, just to come in and see kids riding bikes on allocated paths, they couldn’t do that before — they’re able to have more experiences in the educational setting.”
Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing, who helped unveil a plaque with school captains Hannah Lowcock and Zoe Tratford, said the day belonged to the community, which had worked so hard to bring the plans to fruition.
“Being able to deliver it so the 70 students who attend this school now, and the many more who will attend into the future, have the best facilities that they need to thrive and flourish, is such a wonderful achievement,” she said.
“(The community) made sure that (the state government) never wavered on our commitment to deliver a specialist school here in Sale.”
With Sale expanding, the school’s extra capacity could be a potential drawcard for families looking to move out of Melbourne.
“Having specialist resources for specific needs education is a big part of (planning for population growth), and now we’re in a position where the school will require new teachers, it will be able to take on more students, it will be have a more active and centrally-engaged role in the community, and that’s part and parcel of making regional Victoria, and in particular Gippsland, a really attractive place for people to live,” Ms Shing added.
There will be community open days at the school announced soon.