THE tiny Hunter Valley town of Wollombi is gearing up for a brawl with the state government over the sale of the town’s former school.
The Wollombi School Community Education Trust revealed on Monday the Department of Education had told them to vacate the premises by the middle of next month, as bureaucrats deemed the site “surplus to needs”, sparking fears the government is preparing the historic buildings for sale.
“Everybody is quite shocked,” Wollombi education trust president Frank Ganino said.
“We want to keep it in community ownership. Who knows what could happen if it's sold off – or who would buy it – but it won’t belong to the community.”
Everybody is quite shocked. We want to keep [the school] in community ownership.Wollombi School Community Education Trust president Frank Ganino
The school closed two years ago, ending 162 years of continuous education, despite an emotional campaign run by parents to keep it open.
The department said it closed due to declining enrolments – reasoning which is still disputed by parents who say the school was “targeted” by departmental accountants.
Since then, Mr Ganino said the site had played host to more than 300 community events, while a pre-school is in operation two days a week.
“It’s valued by the community and cherished by people,” the father-of-three said.
“Residents across this scattered rural area have gathered to see movies, explore local history, learn from Aboriginal elders, address climate change, social and health issues, take part in art, music and theatre, and much more.
“Regional facilities like libraries are distant, which makes this ‘school of arts’ in demand – and an ideal site for pre-school education and children’s holiday activities.”
Mr Ganino appealed to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli to intervene and stop the sale.
He pointed to examples of small communities that have retained ownership of closed schools.
Last year, the government granted a stay of execution for a school slated for sale in tiny Grong Grong, located in the Riverina region, after a community campaign.
“We’re encouraging people to write to Mr Piccoli,” Mr Ganino said.
The Herald asked Mr Piccoli if he would intervene, but questions were referred to the Department of Education. A spokesman for the department said: “The former Wollombi Public School site has been declared surplus to educational requirements. The department is yet to take any action in regards to disposal of the property.”
The buildings of the former Wollombi Public School opened in 1852.