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THE state government identified at least five options for how to proceed with its Newcastle Education Precinct plan, after concluding its original commitment was not a "viable" solution.
As reported on Friday, the state government lost its bid to claim privilege over three of its four boxes of documents relating to the creation of the precinct, which was announced in June 2018 as "including a new public school to meet future enrolment growth and upgrading Newcastle High School with expanded community facilities".
The three boxes included a Department of Education briefing for the chief executive, titled Newcastle Educational Precinct - Conformation of Scope.
"This brief seeks noting by the chief executive as to the preferred approach to addressing the government's commitment for the planning of the Newcastle Educational Precinct project," it said.
On this issue: Upgrade Newcastle schools instead of building new one
A virtually identical briefing for the Minister for Education seeks endorsement of the preferred approach.
"The Service Need Reports [for primary and secondary schools, which it said projected a surplus of primary teaching spaces by 2036] clearly identify demand and asset driven requirements for an upgrade to Newcastle High School," the briefing for the chief executive said.
"There is limited justification however, for a new primary school based on demand.
"Given the announcement by the government was for the establishment of a new educational precinct, a number of options have been identified to address this requirement."
The briefing said establishing a precinct through the provision of a new primary school and upgrade to the high school "directly aligns to the initial announcement by government, however it does not align to the service need".
"This option is therefore unlikely to represent a viable solution from a business case perspective," it said.
"Additionally, the location of a primary school on the existing Newcastle High School site does not align well to where student demand and growth are predicted."
It said establishing a precinct by including an integrated senior school for specific purpose on the Newcastle High site was the preferred option.
"It would address both secondary and special needs service requirements, and provide a genuine precinct alternative."
It said a "strategic options workshop" on September 22 last year identified this option to be incorporated into the strategic business case for funding, in part because it "provides a justifiable alternative to a new primary school based on service need".
The other options included an upgrade only to Newcastle High, which "provides no differentiation however, from an upgrade project and therefore does not satisfy the precinct component of the announcement" and establishing a precinct by including a joint use library and associated community facilities with Newcastle City Council, as part of the high school upgrade.
Another option was to establish a precinct through the relocation of the Big Picture School onto the main high school site.
"It could be considered a precinct, however is likely to be criticised for not offering any alternative service than already provided through the high school."
The briefing for the chief executive was attached to an email between department staffers on October 29 last year, which requested the document be turned into briefing notes "to seek ministerial approval to depart from election/announced commitment" before proceeding to the strategic business case stage.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said he could see why the government wanted to keep the documents secret, "because this is pretty embarrassing".
"They're backflipping on their election commitment to the people of Newcastle with a play we've come to expect from this government - promise the world, then work out the details later," he said.
"No matter how craftily they choose to fulfil the brief of creating a precinct, if there is no primary school this is a broken promise, plain and simple."
The briefing for the minister said between $50 and $80 million would be required for the precinct, while delivering a primary and high school would "well exceed $100 million".
It said there was "insufficient space to meet primary and high school requirements" at Newcastle High, but Hamilton South and The Junction had land for expansion.
A spokeswoman for the department said it was "committed" to the precinct.
She said planning activities to date included service need analysis, options identification and a master plan "that aligns to the announcement". She said final options would be presented in the business case, anticipated to be submitted in mid-2021.
Read more on this issue: Your Right to Know
- Newcastle in line for new public school as part of $6 billion NSW budget allocation
- Your Right to Know: Government considered relocating Newcastle High under education plan
- Your Right to Know: Newcastle East calls for squeeze to be eased on crowded school
- Government told to review decision not to release documents about Newcastle Education Precinct
- Government 'digs heels in' over access to Newcastle Education Precinct documents
- Government agrees to produce papers on Newcastle Education Precinct
- School's out: government's secret decision on Newcastle Education Precinct revealed
- Government loses bid to keep Newcastle Education Precinct documents confidential