THE Smeaton community will lobby to buy the town’s school to turn it into a community hub.
Smeaton residents said the school, which closes at the end of this year, needed to be converted into a hub to maintain community cohesion and historical legacy. Smeaton will soon celebrates its 175th anniversary.
Hepburn Shire Council has been approached by a Smeaton community interest group asking to buy the school.
Principal Reg Farquhar said the community decided to close after months of discussions agreeing to do what was in the “best interest of the students’ education”.
Smeaton Primary is one of four regional schools, including Learmonth, Waubra, and Kingston, to close over the past nine years due to low enrolment numbers.
Mr Farquhar said the community was sad at the closure of the school which has been a focal point for more than 150 years. He said there was general acceptance that it was a “slowly ageing and disappearing community” and “reflects what is happening in many rural communities”.
Friends of Smeaton chairman Ron Cosgrave confirmed a formal written request had been sent to Hepburn Shire Council expressing interest by the community to “take possession of the school and turn it into a community meeting place”.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education Victoria said that processes must be followed to determine new owners.
“Government requirements state that the Department must first offer a property to other government departments, then to the local council, and then to public” the spokesperson said.
Hepburn Shire Mayor Bill McClenaghan said the closure of regional schools and the loss of facilities could “tear the heart out of the community”.
“It’s not just about educating children, it’s a focal point. It all moves to turn a small country town into a ghost town,” Cr McClenaghan said.
University of Melbourne, rural community expert Dr Hernan Cuervo suggested the state government should consider communicating with the community.
“Taking this away without consultation with the people on the ground has a profound impact on health and sustainability,” he said.
Mr Cosgrave said the community feared a private sale could leave the historical site to “wrack and ruin” while its fate was determined.
“We’re a strong community and would like to think that that the education department would leave it in our hands in case the community revives and they need a school. We’d like to be the care takers.” Mr Cosgrave said.