Sydney Archdiocese REPORT:
26 Sep 2011
Construction at Sydney's Catholic schools as part of the Federal Government's Building the Education Revolution (BER) is due to be completed within the next five to six weeks and has come in ahead of time and on budget.
The construction of new classrooms and a school hall at St Joseph's Primary School at Enfield will mark the end of the final stage of the Archdiocese's $300 million grant as part of the BER package which has seen 49 libraries, 64 halls, 17 Covered Outdoor Learning Areas, 218 classrooms and 34 science labs built at 113 of the city's 120 Catholic secondary and primary schools.
Not only do these schools now boast state of the art facilities but each structure has been individually designed to meet the specific needs of the school and its students.
With an eye to the future and the long term use of the BER constructions at its schools, the Archdiocese insisted only durable easy-to-maintain materials be used with an emphasis on natural light and space. Sustainability was also a key factor for the Archdiocese, which promoted the installation of tanks for rainwater harvesting and solar panels for energy at schools as part of the program.
The BER stimulus package for Australian schools was introduced by the then Minister for Education, Julia Gillard in 2008 to counter the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). But over the past two and a half years as the scheme got underway, the BER has become a symbol of government bungling and inefficiency with mass media headlines about millions wasted, rorting, cost overruns and lack of consultation.
A $10 million taskforce established by the Government to investigate these accusations found that in NSW less than two-thirds of the $3.4 billion allocated to the state's public primary and secondary schools went on actual construction of buildings. The remainder - a whopping 36% - was instead spent on "agency and management fees," "unique project costs" and "external works and services."
The taskforce found NSW public schools paid $3285 per square metre for classrooms while NSW Catholic schools paid less than a third of this at just $2204 per square metre for similar work.
When it came to the cost for a standard 319 square metre school library, the discrepancy was even more alarming with the NSW government paying $4860 per square metre against just $2451 per square metre for a similar library at NSW Catholic schools.
Determined to obtain value for money from its $300 million BER grant, the Archdiocese of Sydney in collaboration with the Catholic Education Office (CEO), carried out detailed planning and consultation with each of its schools before any work began.
Talking with principals, teachers, parents, local parishes and communities, the Archdiocese and CEO determined the city's 120 Catholic schools were most in need. Choosing 113 of the most run down schools, many of which were sited in areas of higher than average unemployment, architects were commissioned to design individual purpose-built facilities.
This was followed by a strict tendering process for each school which came with built in protocols to contain costs within budget estimates.
"As stewards of public funding, the CEO Sydney had a serious responsibility to deliver true value for money," says Dr Dan White, Director of Schools for the Sydney Archdiocese.
As a result, Catholic schools in Sydney are now very much schools for the 21st century. Unlike public schools under the BER scheme, and the watchful eye of Bovis Lend Lease who acted as Project Managers, there are no prefab classrooms. Instead each of the classrooms constructed at the various schools were purpose built complete with the latest in IT technology, white boards, flexible working spaces and partition screens able to change the size and shape of a classroom depending on what is being taught on the day.
While the BER program has been attacked by the Opposition in Canberra as well as the mainstream media for wastage and cost overruns, the Sydney Archdiocese and CEO have nothing but praise for what the BER grant has enabled them to achieve.
Describing the BER stimulus package as a "once in a generation event," Barry Mullins, Head of School Facilities for CEO Sydney says what would normally have taken 20 years to accomplish in terms of modernising schools and classrooms for the 21st Century, has been carried out in just two and a half years.