School sneak peek

AFTER waiting more than 25 years for a new school, it’s the attention to detail that truly impresses, walking through the new buildings at Sale Specialist School.

The Gippsland Times was granted a tour of the school before it opens tomorrow for the new school year, and the multi-million dollar project is mind-boggling.

Things like whiteboards being flush with walls to stop students hitting sharp corners, carpeted walls to avoid using staples or pins, and bright, airy classrooms with their own little shaded courtyards, each labelled with colours and shapes, bring home how complex building a new specialist school is.

The clocks, for example, are all controlled by a master clock in the administration building, so in case the power goes out, teachers aren’t scrambling to correct the time, helping students that need a daily routine.

Principal Shelagh Donegan was beaming as she described each room’s function.

“We wanted flexibility, good acoustics, and natural light,” she said, and proudly added the designers had gone above and beyond.

Each building is clearly labelled with letters and colours, helping students of all abilities distinguish where to go.

There is space for more than 140 students, though Ms Donegan said the school would open with 70.

This was the first time in many years the junior and senior students would be on the same campus.

After heading through the main gates, students will be greeted with a leafy courtyard, which Ms Donegan said would let them meet and interact before going off to their classrooms.

The buildings have a set of classrooms and a specialist room — for the first time, there is a dedicated art room, kitchen classroom and science room, as well as a massive music room and acoustically-treated gym.

These facilities are state-of-the-art. “All of the specialist rooms, the food tech, the home crafts, the STEM, and the art, have heightadjustable sinks, for kids five to 18 and kids in wheelchairs — it’s wonderful,” Ms Donegan said.

“One is set up as an independent learning space, with a kitchen, laundry for student use, and a learning space where they can learn to make a bed or use a vacuum cleaner, learning life skills.

“This is absolutely fantastic, because you don’t have to spend your time packing everything away, because this is the room’s purpose.”

Many of the classrooms are joined together by a smaller quiet room, a kitchenette, and a disabled toilet and changing room, which means teachers will not have to leave the classrooms to look after a specific student’s needs.

The classrooms have been designed with several suspension points, as well as electric hoists, with tracks that can move students in swings or hammock chairs around the room or to the bathroom.

This reduces the chance of injury for students with brittle bones or sensory needs, as well as the health and safety risks for staff.

All the teachers, Ms Donegan said, were excited about the huge new staff room, which would allow everyone to sit and eat together.

“[In the past] we were actually sitting around a table, and when you finished eating, you moved to chairs around the room so someone else could sit at the table and eat,” she said.

“It’s invaluable, I don’t know how we did it without it before.

“We’ve got a staff courtyard, an outdoor area so when we get furniture, staff can sit out there and eat.

“You’ve got time during the school day where you can take a bit of time out to relax, take a deep breath, and then get back to it — that’s going to be beneficial for staff and for students.”

The buildings also have a cleaner’s room and plenty of storage space, which means wheelchairs, walkers, hoists, and other equipment can wait outside classrooms.

Outside, the school is separated into junior and senior areas, with gardens, basketball courts, sandpits, and concrete areas for four square and other games.

A huge oval, surrounded by a bike track, is behind the school, as well as a Landcare-supported sensory garden, vegetable garden, and perhaps room for a calf for the children to help raise.

As well as trebling office space, separate rooms for parents, doctors and allied health specialists, and a multi-sensory room and space for physiotherapy next to the gym, will mean students will have to be taken off campus less often, as support services have their own dedicated spaces at the school.

Ms Donegan said there were already plans for the next set of improvements — the community raised almost $40,000 for playground equipment, and there was space for a hydrotherapy spa and kiln for the art room.

None of this would be possible without years of community support, and the initiative of the New School Parent Action Group.

“To get us to this point, over the last 25 years there’s been ongoing action for a new school, and there’s been groundwork laid by many people over the years,” Ms Donegan said.

“The New School Parent Action Group came in at the end of all of that and were able to take forward a further step, and on that got a lot of community interest and a lot of support — the 7000 signature petition Darren Chester tabled was phenomenal.

“We’ve never had a space where parents can meet. “Now they have a dedicated parent room, they’re hoping to take on more fundraising activities.”

The school is hoping to also build on its community links, perhaps by partnering with the neighbourhood for the vegetable garden.

As well as an official opening once students are settled in, Ms Donegan promised a community open day would be held soon.

“We’ve had so much community support and we need to acknowledge that, and let them know where all the money’s gone,” she said.

“Right now we’ve got a fantastic space that will suit students’ needs now, suit into the future.

“It’s flexible, adaptable, with good acoustics and good natural light, and allows for many more programs to be run — so what more could you ask for?”