9 March 2023

Future of Bungendore High School's permanent home could come down to legal action

| Claire Fenwicke
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Bungendore High School students

Bungendore High School students have started the school year in demountables. Photo: Nichole Overall MP Facebook.

An independent review into the site selection of Bungendore High School could be on the cards if Labor wins the seat of Monaro and the party takes government.

However, the school could stay remain on its controversial site, depending on what happens with pending legal action.

If elected, Labor Monaro candidate Steve Whan said he’d make the site selection process public.

“There are so many unanswered questions about this, and the way it has been handled has caused such division and angst,” he said.

“The process has been appalling and the secrecy around the decision made [for the site] is unjustifiable.”

He pointed at the lack of transparency around how the final site for the permanent high school was chosen as the reason why it was causing such a rift in the Bungendore community.

“The government’s failure to be transparent and the decade-long delay in starting the project has created a division in Bungendore and has turned what should be a good news story into a source of community angst,” Mr Whan said.

“The problem is none of us knows the reason why the site was chosen, and none of the community knows those reasons either.

“People are saying quite nasty things to each other over this; if they could be given the reasons behind these decisions, people could say, ‘ok, I don’t like it’, but still understand why.”

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The Majara/Gibraltar Street precinct, which was ultimately chosen to host the school, has faced opposition from the outset, with the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC) originally supporting it in late 2020 when it was first proposed but backflipping on that decision in early 2022.

That’s after three-quarters of public submissions opposed the proposal in 2021, and action groups for and against the site were formed.

A new design was unveiled in mid-2022, while it was promised all the documents relating to site acquisition would be released in October 2022.

Issues over the site continued, with arguments over parking arrangements leading to further design changes.

Steve Whan

Labor Monaro candidate Steve Whan wants to make the site selection process for Bungendore High School public. Photo: Steve Whan Facebook.

Now that the high school students have started their year in demountables and site establishment works have been approved, the school could remain in its chosen spot regardless of who wins the seat of Monaro and the state election.

Mr Whan said all he wanted was to get students out of the demountables and into a permanent structure as quickly as possible.

“If the current government has done its homework properly, then the school’s likely to stay where they’re building it,” he said.

“I won’t be happy with the site particularly, but I probably won’t have much choice about it.

“Legal action has been taken … I can’t stop it, but if that action was likely to cause significant delays [to construction], the only way could be looking at somewhere else, so I can’t be definitive.”

Solicitors for the action group Save Bungendore Park have served letters on the Department of Education and the Planning Minister arguing the development consent for the school is “invalid”.

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Meanwhile, QPRC has received a Draft Deed of Agreement from the Department of Education seeking council’s permission to access Mick Sherd Oval to reposition field lighting, which is now located within the school grounds, install a public address system at the town’s war memorial, relocating the footpath from the eastern end to the western end, put up temporary fencing and making changes to the oval’s irrigation to move it from the school grounds to the playing field.

Council outlined all of these would be paid for by the state government, and it was expected this request would be granted with some minor tweaks.

Mick Sherd Oval has been booked by Bungendore High School to be used from 1 pm to 3 pm every Wednesday, while Bungendore Public School has reserved it from 11 am to 2 pm every school day during Term One.

Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on Riotact.

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