Around 50 disadvantaged youths would attend the Hunter’s first “flexible learning centre” instead of a traditional high school, under a proposal lodged with council by the Catholic Church.
The Maitland-Newcastle Diocese is forging ahead with its plans to convert the St Laurence O’Toole Centre at Broadmeadow into an alternative school, which comes in the wake of a storm of controversy over the church’s decision to evict a community of Italians from the building in December.
A development application, worth $325,000, is being assessed by Newcastle council. If approved, the building’s life-cycle will come full circle, after it was used as a school from its construction in 1904 until 1978.
The educational arm of the Edmund Rice Foundation hatched the concept of flexible learning centres, and now runs a network of 19 across the country, including at St Marys and Wollongong in NSW.
While Edmund Rice Education Australia could not be reached for comment on Thursday, according to its website the centres offer “educational pathways for young people in years 7-12 who have difficulty accessing mainstream school for a variety of reasons.”
“The young people who attend our schools have typically experienced one or more significant and complex educational, social, developmental, psychological, health, legal or familial situations which demand unique responses,” it said.
A statement of environmental effects lodged on behalf of the diocese said the centre would provide small classes catering to students with needs outside the mainstream school environment.
“The proposal will generate benefits for the Broadmeadow and larger Newcastle community, by fulfilling the needs of disadvantaged social groups and also by providing employment opportunities,” it said.
Under the plans, there would be minor internal and external alternations to the existing St Laurence O’Toole Centre, which sits adjacent to a car park, the St Laurence O’Toole church, a library and presbytery.
A new parking lot with nine spaces would be provided at the rear of the centre, with access via a laneway running along the eastern boundary of the site.
The existing car park would be used as a basketball court and playground for the students during the week, but would remain available to parishioners for use outside of school hours. The plans also include a shaded seating area, fencing and landscaping.
The land is zoned medium density residential, with an educational establishment allowable under the zoning.
The statement argued the adjoining residential area would not be affected.
“Given the past use of this building as a school, the proposed use is not out of character with the surrounding community,” it said.
The school would enrol a maximum of 51 students. It would employ eight full-time staff members, with an additional head of the campus, administrative employee and food preparation staff member working on a part-time basis.
A traffic impact study and construction traffic management plan were not deemed necessary due to the scale of the proposal.