By Gav Ross
WILL a major funding announcement for Wonthaggi Secondary College finally be made when the State Budget is revealed later this month?
Staff, students and the wider community are all crossing their fingers and toes, hoping that the moment has finally arrived.
State Education Minister James Merlino visited the McBride Avenue campus last Friday to engage in a short roundtable discussion with school and council representatives.
It marks the second time Mr Merlino has visited the ailing senior campus in less than six months.
Following the talks, Mr Merlino told the Sentinel-Times he cannot make any pre-budget announcements, but assures his government is “absolutely listening” to Wonthaggi.
“We understand the challenges Wonthaggi Secondary College faces,” Mr Merlino said.
“This is a constrained campus with substandard facilities, and the school has done a wonderful job with what it has.”
Mr Merlino described the Education Precinct project – which has been jointly developed by the council and Wonthaggi Secondary College – as “an exciting vision”.
“This is not just a standard school build project,” he continued.
“This is something much more significant to the entire region, the local economy and potential pathways for students coming through the school.”
Developed over five years ago, the Education Precinct plan includes a new senior campus at the precinct site at the eastern end of McKenzie Street (close to where the Bass Coast Specialist School currently resides).
The overall business plan also includes provision of a new junior campus at San Remo – a matter that was raised with the Minister again at last week’s roundtable meeting.
“We have a responsibility to make sure there are convenient education opportunities, wherever they live,” Mr Merlino commented.
“The school has taken me through the number of students who travel an hour to get to (this) school each day.”
Mr Merlino indicated that the additional campus at San Remo is an important part of the plan “down the track”, but the priority for now is the senior campus rebuild.
“For a secondary school, this is really tight,” he said, gazing at the building, many of which are over 90 years old.
“The facilities are pretty old, and pretty tired.”
Senior campus principal Darren Parker said he felt very positive after last week’s talks.
“(Mr Merlino) has a good understanding of our situation,” he said.
“He understands that this isn’t just about improving education, it’s about the overall impact it can have on the entire region.
“We remain hopeful and, at the end of the day, we want what’s best for our kids.”
School council president Geoff Robertson said it was refreshing to welcome a Minister to the school at a time when an election isn’t around the corner.
Mr Robertson was, of course, referencing the 2013 visit by former Premier Denis Napthine when the college was promised $21m – a pledge which quickly evaporated when the Liberal Government was voted out of office a fortnight later.
“I think we’re starting to get through to them,” Mr Robertson added.
“After all, it’s been 10 years.”
The State Budget is due to be released on Wednesday, April 27.
More reports on the visiting six State Government Ministers in this weeks edition of the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times.
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