By Shelby Brooks

FORMER students and staff, current parents, and neighbouring residents of Cowes Primary School have banded together to try and save the last two hectares of remanent vegetation from being “destroyed” by the planned gymnasium build.

The group of concerned locals have started a petition on which has gained almost 300 signatures in support of finding a different spot for the Cowes Primary School gymnasium that is not the nature reserve.

Approximately $4.95 million has been confirmed for the gym build by the state government on top of the $550,000 for planning and design received from the 2019-20 state budget.

The school also petitioned Bass Coast Shire Council last year for additional funding to expand the build to include two basketball courts, however, the shire is yet to commit.

“We’re not against a gymnasium being built, but if they could build it elsewhere everybody would be happy,” said petition organiser Pauline Taylor.

Pauline has been a big supporter of the Cowes Primary School community sanctuary since the land was preserved in 1986.

As a registered Land for Wildlife sanctuary, it was set up to protect the remanent vegetation and serve as an open-air classroom for students.

Native flora and fauna thrive in the sanctuary and is habitat to the endangered Swift Parrot, the Powerful Owl and Grey Headed Flying Fox.

School parent and past student Marnie Chadwick said although reports have indicated the gym build would only take up 20 per cent of the sanctuary, there’s reason for serious concern.

“They say it’s only a footprint but they already took some for the tennis courts, and now the gymnasium, what’s the next step until it’s completely all gone?

“What happens to all the wildlife? They’re going to be frightened to come back and reside here after the bulldozers and building.”

Sue Chadwick, an ex-staff member at Cowes Primary School, said: “A gymnasium in a sanctuary is not compatible.”

They also say the increased pedestrian traffic through the sanctuary to get to the gymnasium would negatively affect the wildlife and state of the reserve.

The group is disappointed because they say there’s been no community consultation at any stage of the process.

“We’ve had no communication at all,” Pauline said.

“It has not been transparent.”

The petition requests the Minister for Education James Merlino hold a public meeting which would include the Minister for Education, Member for Bass Jordan Crugnale, the school principal Rod McKenzie, the school council and the Cowes community.

Cowes Primary School principal Rod McKenzie did not respond to the Sentinel-Times enquiries.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Training (DET) said the indoor competition-grade gymnasium “will give students a new multi-purpose play space and give the local community access to state-of-the-art facilities outside school hours”.

“The location of the new facilities was carefully decided following consideration of alternative sites, extensive consultation with the local community, and expert advice from an ecologist and arborist regarding the facilities’ impact on the existing environment.”

Construction is expected to start in term four.