NEWCASTLE High's existing facilities "do not meet the educational needs of the school", according to a government report, but it is unclear when they will be upgraded.
The draft Newcastle Educational Precinct Feasibility Study - Options Analysis dated September 2019 was among 2500 pages of documents related to the Newcastle Education Precinct the department unsuccessfully tried to claim privilege over.
It said the school's "average asset condition is currently considered poor" and "investment in backlog maintenance will improve this, but not address the outstanding structural or ventilation issues at the school".
The document said current core facilities "do not meet current or future requirements".
Its eight reasons why facilities didn't meet educational needs included students with physical disabilities being unable to access some learning areas and specialist spaces; staff being limited in their ability to plan and assess collaboratively due to isolated staff work areas; and the current classroom and specialist spaces not allowing for flexibility to enable varied learning and teaching strategies and arrangements, such as co-teaching.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said it regularly consulted with agencies such as the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and local councils to monitor population and development trends to meet enrolment and long-term education requirements in schools across NSW.
The spokeswoman said the department had delivered some major school upgrades across the Hunter in the past two years and further works were already underway or planned.
"In relation to Newcastle High School, over the past two years works have been undertaken including roof replacement of the main heritage building; [and] internal improvement such as the establishment of new support class spaces and movement studios."
A project fact sheet dated July 19, 2020, for the precinct - which was announced in 2018 as including a new primary school and an upgrade of Newcastle High - said a business case had been requested to be submitted for approval in September 2020, with construction anticipated to commence in 2023 and new teaching spaces available late 2025.
However the department confirmed last month it was anticipated the business case would be submitted mid-2021.
The spokeswoman said planning for the precinct "will consider the future inclusion of a new primary school subject to needs assessed".
"This is in line with the announcement," she said.
"Planning for the Newcastle Education Precinct is ongoing. This includes consideration of growth of student numbers across the Newcastle area. At present, the department does not intend to relocate Newcastle High School."
Another document, the draft Service Need Report Newcastle Secondary School Community Group - the group comprises Newcastle, Lambton, Kotara and the selective Merewether high schools - dated January 13, 2020, said Newcastle High exceeded the Facilities Condition Index (FCI) benchmark.
The FCI measures the level of current maintenance liability for an asset compared to its replacement value.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said the assessment of the school was "no shock to me" because it was decades old.
"I toured the school with the Former Parliamentary Secretary for Hunter and could see then the state it was slipping into, so when the government announced this precinct I was glad that they were also able to see the extent of work that needs to occur," he said.
"However, when it's now getting on to three years since the [precinct] announcement it doesn't exactly inspire much faith that necessary works are coming soon."
Aside from the necessary upgrade, the report identified a second problem.
"The large availability of space at Newcastle HS does not align with projected demand for accommodation at Kotara HS and Lambton HS," the report said.
"The location of existing schools combined with transportation availability and community acceptance of redirection of demand to a school with poor facilities limit boundary change interventions as an option."
The report's live in catchment projections shows Kotara High will see a shortfall of 17 total teaching spaces by 2036 and Lambton High will see a shortfall of five.
It said overall, the group will need at least 21 additional teaching spaces by 2036. Five year enrolment projections show each school apart from Merewether High will see enrolment growth to 2024.
Meanwhile the Service Need Snapshot Newcastle Secondary dated June 23, 2020 shows demand for teaching spaces between now and 2036 will increase by 19 spaces at Kotara and seven at Lambton.
NSW Secondary Principals' Council Hunter president and Kotara High principal Mark Snedden said his school was growing exponentially, but he was confident the department had a solution.
"We're very conscious over the next few years that our numbers are going up exponentially as the city expands," Mr Snedden said.
"What we're noticing in the area is one house is turning into five houses in that people are knocking a house down and putting flats up.
"We're future proofed at the moment for the next two or three years and then we'd need to have something, but we've got infrastructure plans that have been drawn up ready to roll to put extra rooms within the school.
"So I'm confident that assets [the Asset Management Unit] are on it and they're doing whatever they can to meet that need, so it's not as if we're deer in the headlights or I'm concerned about it, it's something that's on the radar and I'm confident that the arms of the department are talking."
The department spokeswoman said population projections showed schools in the Newcastle area "have enough space to accommodate students for the next decade".
"The process for projecting enrolments is regularly reviewed, we are always refreshing and updating methods and data, and making sure that our work aligns with government policy," she said.
"Numerous targeted strategies are used to manage enrolment demands in the short to medium term, including enforcing the department's enrolment policy to restrict out-of-area enrolments and reviewing school intake areas to improve utilisation across schools in a local area."
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