Schoolyard space has halved and student numbers have tripled as Miners Rest Primary School goes through an unprecendented population explosion.
The school crush is putting pressure on playgrounds, classrooms, car parking and roads surrounding the school and resulting in a growing number of potentially dangerous incidents.
School principal Dale Power said in the past five years, pupil numbers had risen from about 150 to 440 with the addition of a kindergarten and scores of families moving in to new estates around the area.
Of particular concern is road safety at busy drop off and pick up times on narrow Dundas St.
“With the sheer volume it’s getting to a really dangerous level,” Mr Power said.
The school will continue to grow at least one class size a year for the foreseeable future, adding yet more pressure to the cramped playground space.
“We currently have six permanent classrooms and 14 relocatable classrooms with another one imminent,” he said.
“Each relocatable building impinges on the space in our grounds. Every time we get an 18m x 9m relocatable it goes on our oval.”
Mr Power estimated the amount of open space for children to play in had halved over the past five years.
“It poses more interaction, more crossing paths of students and the interaction is not all positive. We have seen an exponential rise in the number of incidents that occur between children of different ages and genders, and like ages and genders as well.”
And the numbers will continue to grow with about 30 students graduating to high school in each of the next three years being replaced with a minimum 60 students starting their school life.
The population of Miners Rest grew 17 per cent to 4430 between 2011 and 2016, and is expected to reach 6119 by 2016. The largest demographic group in the town is children aged up to nine.
The carpark crush and tight traffic at peak times results in almost weekly near-miss reports being made at the school office.
“The bottom line is we hope there’s no serious injury, or worse, before something is done,” Mr Power said.
“Beyond the gates is not my jurisdiction but I get the angry emails or near misses and feedback about student behaviour or not being aware. We work on the educational aspect of that with parents and kids around responsibility, behaviour and expectations.”
The City of Ballarat is working closely with the school to try to improve traffic movement and increase road and pedestrian safety, and the school has investigated several walk to school programs.
It has also identified the need for a new school site, though a new school is a state government responsibility.
”While the expansion/relocation of the primary school is ultimately the responsibility of the State Government and the Department of Education and Training, the work currently being done through the Township Plan will assist in providing rationale to and strategic justification of the project,” said City of Ballarat development and planning director Angelique Lush.
Mr Power said the school could only continue grow if the grounds expanded or it relocated.
“The only option is to try to expand the school size but the current site is landlocked on three sides, or we could relocate but this school footprint isn’t big enough for the population projected,” he said.
But he held out little hope that would occur any time soon.
“We are a bit of a minnow, with the education department priority understandably on the western and south western parts of Melbourne which extend further out each year. We are a pretty low priority but it doesn’t help us at this point in time.”
The Catholic education system, which often beats the public system to building new schools in rapidly growing suburbs, said it had no plans at this stage for a school in Miners Rest.