Tom Parry

GUMNUTS Early Learning Centre have officially opened their new kindergarten building in Sale.

The childcare and education provider held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at their Raglan St site on Thursday, August 3.

According to Gumnuts ELC director Brendon Ronan, the new facilities are a “purpose-built design” partly funded by the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA).

“The VSBA did have two original floorplans that they use for all their new modulars, but those two floorplans wouldn’t fit here – they were too big for the site,” Mr Ronan said.

“We had to independently work with an architect and the VSBA to create what we’ve created now … a lot of planning, (and) thought went into exactly how we wanted this (building) to be, so we’re pretty proud of what we’ve achieved.”

Brendan Ronan speaking about the history of the project.
Photo: Tom Parry

Multiple dignitaries were present for the opening, with representatives from Ramahyuck District Aboriginal Cooperative, the Department of Education and Wellington Shire Council – including Mayor Ian Bye – among the attendees, alongside Gumnuts staff and pupils.

The ceremony began with an Acknowledgement of Country from the centre’s Borun (three-year-old) kindergarten group, followed by a Welcome to Country from Aunty Sandra Nielson.

Mr Ronan then spoke to the crowd about the centre’s four-year journey to open the new building, which first entered the planning phase in 2019.

In 2020, a house next to the Raglan St site was purchased, allowing Gumnuts to expand their facilities.

These plans were further buoyed by a Building Blocks grant from the VSBA, received in 2021.

The interior of the Borun Room.
Photo: Contributed

From there, Gumnuts liaised with VSBA on the design of their new facility, which was built off-site.

High-strength mobile cranes were utilised to move the building into place, with Gumnuts having to close and their Sale pupils having to temporarily move to other sites.

The bespoke structure has been codenamed “Gumnuts-66” and, according to Mr Ronan, will be utilised for a future kindergarten building in Yarram.

Following Mr Ronan’s remarks, three-year-old kindergarten teacher Tegan Laux stepped forward to cut the ribbon, thus declaring the building officially open.

Attendees were invited to tour the interior of the building, which features wooden furniture, floorboards and potted plants, along with green furnishings.

“We wanted to use as many natural materials as we could, in order to make sure it was an acoustically soft space … there can be up to 33 children in each classroom, so that can come with some noise,” Mr Ronan said.

The interior of the Tuk Room.
Photo: Contributed

Outside, features include a sandpit adorned with natural materials, a water pump, and a wooden playground.

The overall design ensures that pupils of the centre have a “connection to nature” – whether they are inside or out.

The Raglan St centre is one of five currently operated by Gumnuts – with others located in Maffra, Longford, Heyfield and Lakes Entrance – which also offers Outside School Hours Care for primary school-aged children.

“On any given day we have about 400 children that go through our care; our aim is to provide the best level that care that our community needs, and (Gumnuts) are always willing to be fluid with our service provision to meet the community need and demand,” Mr Ronan said.

He believes that the new building will help ease a shortage of childcare spaces, which has “always been a challenge for Sale and surrounds”.

“It definitely will, in the fact that it now, because we’ve got a purpose-built kindergarten classrooms … it frees up our old kindergarten classroom to become an extra-long day-care space,” he said.

“We’ll have a lot more spaces to offer for our community, so that’ll help alleviate waitlist pressures – particularly our waitlist pressure – and then we can get more children flowing through the doors more frequently, instead of big logjams of waitlists.”