Old school dilemma

Mole Creek Primary School

Old school dilemma

AUGUST 2015 | Marguerite McNeill

A PROPOSAL to demolish the old school building and toilets in the main street of Mole Creek has sparked a smouldering debate amongst residents of the district.

Since word spread about its possible demise, there has been a surge of interest weighing up the pros and cons of retaining the aging but neglected structure and how it might be used to benefit the community.

Debate has flared about the historic value of the property, how the land could be used for another purpose and whether the building should be pulled down at all.

To dispel the tension, the Meander Valley Council requested the Education Department that owns the land and building, to defer the planned demolishment to allow further consultation with the Mole Creek community.

That consultation came about early last month when the Mole Creek Progress Association called a community meeting to gather ideas.

Local resident Justin MacLeod facilitated the meeting.

He said that though the number of people who attended was relatively small (about 15) there was good representation of the town and the meeting was very positive.

Mr MacLeod said in recent months an apparent breakdown in communications had left many residents feeling disillusioned about decisions regarding issues in the town.

“There was a general feeling that there was a lack of communication in the town,” he said.

“The issue of the old school was like opening an old wound.”

“We’re hopeful that now a process has started to help bridge the gap.”

The majority of attendees agreed that the Old School building was of historical significance and that they would like to see it restored with the potential of becoming part of a community hub for locals and visitors.

Suggestions included use as a community meeting place for smaller groups, with space for community work, classes and services.

The grounds could be used to extend opportunities for recreational facilities in the town.

The meeting resolved to develop initiatives to increase and improve community cohesion and communication with regard to the future direction of the town.

It was also concluded that the building and land formed part of the local school grounds and therefore any decision regarding its fate remained with the Education Department.

Attendees agreed that any move to restore the building would require some significant effort to raise funds and develop a solid working plan for its restoration and ongoing maintenance.

Meantime, accurate information on the status of the building and what is required to retain its historical value in the town is being collated and will be distributed to the community in several ways, including being posted on a new community notice board next to the Mole Creek Post Office.

A rough estimate prepared by the Meander Valley Council suggests that an initial $110,000 investment would be required to make the old school building habitable.

Ongoing maintenance, operational and insurance costs would be between $5,000 and $10,000 annually.

Director of Development Services, Martin Gill, said that Council was not in the position to take on the additional financial commitment but had offered administrative support and guidance for funding and grant bids for the project.

He said Council was keen to work with the local community and to understand local priorities and, where appropriate, contribute to upgrades and improvements to existing community assets, such as the Mole Creek Memorial Hall.

 Mike Moores