What’s wrong with this picture? Bass Coast Shire Council is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on upgrading kerbing and installing new footpaths a few hundred metres away along Graham Street in Wonthaggi (not to mention further funding on a gravel bike path between San Remo and Anderson that no one asked for), yet Bass Coast Specialist School students like Josh Moran, with education support officer Eli Curry, are forced to walk or be pushed along a busy road because there is no footpath outside their campus. Local and state government representatives don’t seem to be able to resolve the issue and parents are sick of it.
By Gav Ross
DISABLED students at Bass Coast Specialist School are being forced to navigate their way along the side of a busy road because their campus still lacks an exterior footpath – five years after it opened.
Since it opened at the end of 2009, the $4 million education facility, which is located at the southern end of McKenzie Street and offers specialised learning to students with an intellectual disability, has flourished, but the absence of a basic walking path outside the front gate continues to frustrate the school’s small community.
The school currently has 53 students enrolled, including seven reliant on wheelchairs.
While the lack of a footpath poses no problem to the operation of the school itself, it has, over time, hindered outside activities.
regularly take students on outings to the local library and shops in Wonthaggi’s CBD, but they are forced to take the risk of walking on the road due to the sloping nature strip being unnavigable.
Furious parents have said “enough’s enough”, demanding their kids are delivered this basic piece of public infrastructure.
Parent Pauline Clynch pointed out that the Specialist School is the only school in Wonthaggi without an exterior footpath.
“Quite frankly, why would you build a bloody school without one – especially if it’s a school for kids with special needs?” she said.
“We don’t want the world, we just want a footpath and we’re sick and tired of hearing whose responsibility it is or isn’t.
“Right now it’s our children’s problem, and it shouldn’t be.”
According to Bass MP Ken Smith, the ball lies in Bass Coast Shire Council’s court.
Mr Smith said he had previously met with the Mayor, Cr Neil Rankine, and former Bass Coast CEO, Allan Bawden, to discuss a way forward.
He said plans had been drawn up by council officers, but the footpath has been “over-engineered”.
“They’ve designed a two-metre wide footpath, running right down to McKenzie Street to the corner of Wonthaggi Secondary College,” he said, and confirmed its estimated cost is close to $97,000.
“I think what they’ve designed has to be the most glamorous footpath in the whole of Bass Coast.
“A normal footpath might be around 1.2 metres, yet this is 2m wide.
“They say they have got to be able to allow bikes or wheelchairs to pass one another, but to me it looks over-engineered.”
Mr Smith is also critical of the shire’s funding priorities, especially when it comes to pathways.
“They couldn’t find the money for this (McKenzie Street) footpath, yet they’ve spent up to $650,000 on that bike path at Anderson that runs from nowhere to nowhere.
“It’s a gravel path that’s already got weeds growing over it.”
Mr Smith said funding had already been sought from VicRoads for a footpath outside the school but there had been no success.
Council’s director of infrastructure, Felicity Sist, told the Sentinel-Times late last year that a path should have been constructed as part of the development of the school, but that the State Government didn’t consider the impact of not including one because it is not required to go through a formal planning process.
“Council has made a number of requests for various government departments for funding and is continuing to do so,” Ms Sist said.
“Council is also currently speaking to the education department to see if they are willing to contribute.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said: “The Department is committed to working with the local council to resolve the issue.”
Until the issue is resolved, parents have vowed to continue fighting.
“It’s only a matter of time until one of those students is injured,” Ms Clynch added.
“As one mother here rightly pointed out – you teach your kids not to go on the road, yet here we are, telling them to go on the road.”