BELINDA Schasser said before her son Mason joined Fern Bay Public School, it had 27 students. This year, she said, it has 140.
"We have outgrown the school and we really do need some more buildings," said Mrs Schasser, president of the parents and citizens committee. "It doesn't have the facilities that other schools have, it doesn't look appealing when you walk in ... it really is a lovely little school but we're just lacking and feeling a bit left behind."
Mrs Schasser said the school - which opened in 1955 - has one permanent classroom, which the kindergarten class and composite kindergarten and year one class share. The remaining students across four composite classes are in four demountables. Mrs Schasser said the Department of Education was planning to construct a new four-classroom building on the site, but there was still much more to be done.
"We're slowly catching up, but we're still lacking in a lot of things," she said. "We're behind, I think four years ago we had 27 students and with 140 we just haven't caught up with where we should be with 140 students."
She said the school's office block and toilets were in demountables, as was its canteen, which she said also doubles as its second-hand uniform shop, meeting room and as the cleaner's storage space. Its library is in a permanent building built three years ago that also hosts before and after school care.
"Covered walkways are a big thing the parents complain about regularly, because when it's raining - and lately we've had downpours - there's no covered walkways from the classroom to the toilets, or to the office, or to the front gate, and so kids are getting drenched going to the toilet and then having to stay drenched all day, so that's a big problem," she said.
"We've had days where it's been torrential rain and I've actually kept my son home."
The school also doesn't have a large enough undercover area to accommodate all the students, so it has to pay to hire the community hall next door.
Mrs Schasser said she expected the growth to continue. She said the nearby Seaside estate had tripled in size over the past five years and hundreds of dwellings were on the way at the Rifle Range site. She didn't want to see demountables cover the school's soccer field. "It would be great to have an architect out there to do a school plan, so we know where the school is going ahead," she said.
A department report has identified Fern Bay as one of four schools - alongside Carrington, Stockton and Newcastle East - with a Facilities Condition Index (FCI) that exceeds the benchmark. The FCI measures the level of current maintenance liability for an asset, compared to its replacement value. The School Infrastructure NSW Service Need Report Newcastle Primary School Community Group (SCG), dated January 17, 2020, was among 2500 pages of documents related to the Newcastle Education Precinct the department unsuccessfully tried to claim privilege over. As reported last week, another document said "there is no pressing need for a new primary school" in the city, but that "the service need exists in terms of a programme of core facility upgrades".
Several other documents highlight the scope of this need. The service need report - written before the completion of Newcastle East's upgrade - shows of the 108 permanent teaching spaces across the SCG's 10 schools, 14 spaces were below the minimum size for a classroom, at Stockton (10), Carrington (3) and Hamilton (1). Accommodation reviews had recently been completed at Stockton and Carrington. It said only The Junction met the target site size (two hectares) for a primary school in a regional area. It said of the SCG's 15 demountables, seven had been on site for more than seven years, at Fern Bay, Hamilton South, Newcastle East, The Junction and Tighes Hill.
Live-in catchment projections, based on where children live, showed the number of primary students living in the SCG was projected to "slightly increase" by around 4 per cent to 2036. It showed there would be a shortfall in mainstream total teaching spaces in 2036 in Carrington (2), Fern Bay (4), The Junction (4) and Tighes Hill (3), but overall, there would be a surplus of five teaching spaces. However its five-year enrolment projections, based on Medicare data, showed there would be an increase of 205 students by 2024. At 7.5 per cent, this is nearly double the demand identified by the live-in catchment projections and equivalent to nine nominal teaching spaces. Fern Bay (23), Hamilton South (55), Newcastle East (6), Stockton (63) and The Junction (125) will see student growth.
A draft of the Newcastle Educational Precinct Feasibility Study - Options Analysis document, dated September 2019, said the 11 primary schools within three kilometres of Newcastle High - which are slightly different to the SCG - will have a shortfall of 21 teaching spaces by 2036, or by 32 if population is redistributed within the local government area using council dwelling forecasts.
"This shortfall will largely be able to be absorbed by increasing capacity within existing primary schools with investment in the associated core facilities," it said. "Adamstown and Tighes Hill will require specific attention to address the acute population growth issues."
Meanwhile, Service Need Snapshot Newcastle Primary dated June 23, 2020, said demand for teaching spaces between now and 2036 would be almost the same at the SCG schools, except for at The Junction, where demand will grow from 21 to 29 spaces.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said teachers did an "amazing job" and should have access to quality educational facilities.
"As it is, most of our schools need significant investment just to meet the requirements of 21st century learning, but upgrades and capital works can't be just to bring these schools to what they need right now - we need to plan for the future," he said.
"The last thing you want is to have demountables dropped back in, like we have seen at The Junction, because the school has again outgrown the facilities they have. Each time you need to put in a demountable you're eating into a school's outdoor space."
He said the presence of demountables at many schools suggested the department needed to increase permanent capacity. "As the population of the CBD and inner-city suburbs continues to increase further pressure will be placed on our local schools," he said." I'm very open to a conversation with the government about the primary school needs for Newcastle."
Mr Crakanthorp warned against tweaking enrolment zones to balance numbers. "What you actually end up with are situations where students are zoned out of attending their closest school," he said.
The Herald put questions to the Department of Education but these could not be answered in time for deadline.
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