Members of the Beaufort community are banding together to save the former Beaufort Primary School site from government sell off.
More than 25 people gathered at the historic school site on Hill Street last week to meet The Courier.
It was a strong show of support for plans to transform the former school into a community facility.
Old Beaufort Primary School 60 Committee member Philippa Hedges is helping to lead the call for the Pyrenees Shire Council to back community plans and purchase the site.
“The piece of land is right in the centre of town,” she said.
“The community has a longstanding investment in and attachment to the former school site and it needs to be recognised as an irreplaceable community asset for present and future generations.”
We need to think about how these towns are going to be in 50 years.Philippa Hedges, Old Beaufort Primary School 60 Committee
Beaufort Primary School pupils relocated to a new school site near Beaufort Secondary College in 2014.
The former historic site, which acted as a school for more than 150 years, has laid derelict since. It was declared surplus by the Department of Education and Training.
The department is currently seeking to rezone the land prior to sale.
Pyrenees Shire Council acting chief executive Doug Gowans told The Courier earlier this month that council had no current plans to purchase the site.
Ms Hedges, who is a former Beaufort Primary School student, said the school committee is calling for the site to be withdrawn from sale so their plan can be further developed and implemented with the backing of the Pyrenees Shire Council.
She said the committee was about to release a business plan which detailed the vision to develop the site for use as a community hub hosting and arts and cultural centre, youth space, and facilities for community groups and events.
“The process can’t proceed until council backs our plan,” she said.
The committee presented an initial proposal to council in May and has since prepared a document for the minister of planning.
Pyrenees Shire Council director asset and development services Douglas Gowans said council was ‘committed’ to working with the community.
“Council is still waiting on the outcome of the rezoning amendment. Once the ministerial decision is made clear to us, council is committed to continue working with the community on the future use of the site,” he said.
The old primary school site is not currently subject to heritage protection, but Pyrenees Shire Council has requested a heritage overlay be applied.
The request was supported by a heritage assessment report completed in April which recommended a heritage overlay for specific buildings and areas of the former school.
The report identifies the site as both ‘socially’ and ‘aesthetically’ significant for the Beaufort community.
Old Beaufort Primary School 60 Committee chairman George Kirsanovs said it was most important the site’s purpose remained for community use and was not ‘lost’ to developers.
“We had two big meetings this year with people from a range of community groups. They unanimously said we are going to do whatever we can to make sure this remains in community hands,” he said.
If the site was secured, the Old Beaufort Primary School 60 Committee would work to receive grants to to fund the restoration and development of facilities.
Mr Kirsanovs referred to the Rainbow Oasis Project as a successful example of their vision for Beaufort.
The former Rainbow Primary School site is being to a community hub after Hindmarsh Shire Council agreed to purchase the site at a reduced rate from the government.
A Small Town Transformation Grant, managed through Creative Victoria, is supporting the development of the facility.
The old Beaufort Primary School heritage assessment completed in April recommended the original 1869 stone Beaufort school building be retained on site and protected with an individual heritage overlay, along with the 1925 higher elementary school, memorial gates and the relocated Mt Rowan school and former cookery building.
The school was erected as a common school, partly funded by the government and by local community fundraising in 1869. It was one of the earliest common schools erected in the state.
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