Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese REPORT
24 Nov 2011
In two weeks' time the construction of a state-of-the-art multi-purpose hall-gymnasium and four light-filled spacious classrooms will be completed at Enfield's St Joseph's Primary School.
The completion of the work at St Joseph's also marks the end to the Archdiocese of Sydney's $300 million program that has transformed 113 Sydney Catholic primary and secondary schools as part of the Federal Government's BER (Building the Education Revolution) stimulus scheme.
The BER program continues to receive harsh criticism with accusations of a lack of planning, inflexible attitudes by state bureaucracies, cost overruns, delays, rorting and budget blowouts.
But this has not been the case with Sydney's Catholic schools which thanks to prudent management by the Archdiocese of Sydney, Catholic Education Office (CEO) and project managers, Bovis Lend Lease, now boast 49 brand new libraries, 64 all-purpose halls, 17 Covered Outdoor Learning Areas (COLAs), 218 ultra modern classrooms equipped with whiteboards and IT facilities, and 34 cutting-edge science labs.
At St Joseph's primary school, principal, Michael McGovern has nothing but praise for the scheme and the way it has been implemented by the Archdiocese and CEO.
Before any work began, he says, extensive consultations were held not only with the school and the staff, but with parents, the parish and local community as well. Through this consultation process, the priorities of the school and exactly what was needed were determined. The school's gymnasium-hall and classrooms were then custom-designed and built, following Archdiocese guidelines that insisted only durable easy to maintain materials be used. The Archdiocese also emphasised the importance of sustainability, cross ventilation and the additions of solar panels to provide energy and tanks for rainwater harvesting.
"The hall and classrooms have been built with high windows, louvers and large doors so there is always superb air flow and light," he says.
Mr McGovern is also delighted with the large gymnasium hall which not only provides full shade protection to the children during Sydney's harsh summer months, but has been designed so that it can be used by the community as well in hours outside those of the normal school day.
"To say we are very pleased with the design and quality of the workmanship on the classrooms and in our new hall is an understatement. And when the new buildings are in use when school reopens in February next year, our teaching facilities will be absolutely fabulous."
The work at St Joseph's primary will end about the time the school breaks for Christmas but by the time the 470 youngsters begin or return to school in February next year, the old demountable classrooms will no longer be on site and preparations for celebrations and a blessing of the new school area will be well underway.
Although state governments continue to be blasted for cost overruns and the building of halls or libraries that were not needed, the way BER has been implemented at Catholic schools has been widely praised, and at schools within the Archdiocese of Sydney have not only come in on time but on budget.
The manner in which Catholic schools used funds from the BER has been constantly held up as an example of good management, particularly by the Orgill Taskforce which handed in its report on the implementation of the Government's multi-billion dollar BER stimulus scheme in July.
The Orgill Report found that the cost to NSW state schools to build halls, COLAS, classrooms, libraries, labs and other improvements under the BER scheme were almost 50 percent higher than those built at Catholic schools. The Report also found that despite the large discrepancy in costs, there was no difference in quality. In fact in some cases Catholic schools were ahead of the game constructing permanent custom-built classrooms rather than the pre-fab classrooms erected at state schools.
Under the Federal Government's BER stimulus package, funds were allocated on a per capita student basis. But unlike the states which stuck to the amounts ear-marked for each school on its student numbers, the Archdiocese of Sydney put its $300 million BER allocation into a central pool. Then after consultations with its 120 schools, principals and staff, as well as the surrounding community, it was decided to use the BER where need was greatest. Obtaining endorsements from wealthier Catholic schools in affluent suburbs such as Mosman and Rose Bay which have active Parents and Friends Associations, the BER funds were allocated to schools in struggling areas which had higher than average unemployment. Funds also went to schools that had simply become outdated, rundown and in desperate need of renewal to bring them into the 21st Century and the vast changes that have come with information technology.
Each of the 113 Catholic primary and secondary schools then had its requirements and priorities custom designed by architects and purpose built.
"The Catholic system is the ideal way of running a program like BER," said Robert Leece, Infrastructure Coordinator General for the NSW National Building and Jobs Plan Taskforce, earlier this year. Praising the Catholic system for its management of BER, he said the Catholic schools' policy of pooling funds and tailoring the program to each individual school's needs had proved far more successful and efficient than rigid one-size-fits-all approach adopted by the states.