Opinion: old Wauchope school is of significant historic value

1917 opening of Wauchope School.
1917 opening of Wauchope School.

The NSW Department of Education has plans for a major capital works upgrade at Wauchope Primary School – a very big school that, with the youthful, child-bearing demographic that is settling in our beautiful town, is getting bigger every year.

Several concerned Wauchope district residents met two project managers last month at the second community consultation. Their failure to note and swift dismissal of our concerns underlines what they regard as a fait accompli – the demolition of the original 99-year-old building on the corner of Waugh and Campbell Streets.

According to them, this building, only very recently vacated by several classes, is virtually falling down and demolishing itself. As well, they assert that it would cost ‘millions’ to restore, and has at least ten coats of lead-based paint on the exterior.

School of Arts and Bain Park gates.

School of Arts and Bain Park gates.

I have spoken to a community-minded resident who happened to be at school on the day, 39 years ago, that the lead paint was removed and the bare boards exposed. So we wonder about the reliability of other assertions made by the project managers.

We very much regret that the wider community was not notified of this upgrade at an earlier stage in the development. People who reside near the school would have liked off-street parking provided for the staff. They, and those who use Waugh Street as a thoroughfare, would have appreciated a pick-up and set-down area for buses and parents’ cars being incorporated in the upgrade.

Is it policy for the Department to upgrade existing schools to accommodate increasing student numbers rather than building new schools in greenfield sites where design would be unconstrained by considerations of space, neighbourhood amenity and the need for new buildings to sit comfortably beside the old? Two medium-sized public schools in the Wauchope district rather than one bursting at the seams might better serve our children and grandchildren.

Wauchope, a town with a proud history of free settlement and progress based on timber, likes to promote itself to tourists and visitors as ‘the timber town’. Sadly, many of its historic timber buildings have been lost to ‘upgrades’. People say the old is no longer ‘fit for purpose’; Wauchope deserves ‘state of the art’ replacements. Those who value what history can tell us about ourselves and our environs fear that the Heritage-listed, timber school building will pass into general oblivion like the original Hastings Council Chambers, the Wauchope School of Arts, the Regent Theatre, and many timber homes.

The 1917 school, occupied by pupils in 1918, is of significant value to the Wauchope district community as an historic building, built of local hardwood, a pleasing component of the streetscape of school buildings and as an item which has a strong and special association with the local community for social and cultural reasons. It is a well-preserved representative of public schools constructed early last century and is of value to researchers seeking to document the social and historical development of Wauchope.

The Statement of Heritage Impacts submitted as part of the DA to Council acknowledges all this, while claiming there is no alternative to demolition of the building.

We think Wauchope deserves to retain its historic school as well as a school upgrade designed to respect heritage, the streetscape, parking and transport requirements. The proposed building is a ‘state of the art’ modern building which pays no homage to Wauchope with no sense of place apparent in its design.

Jean Hegarty. President, Wauchope District Historical Society