EPSOM Primary School has had to shift gears suddenly in 2018 as it opened the year with its $5.7 million new school still under construction.

Either a coincidence or because of the pull of a new school, prep enrolments tripled from 24 to 69 and in a sign of things to come, many of the new students are first born children in their families.

The leap in enrolments took the school by surprise but other primary schools in the area are believed to be full.

It has increased the impetus of principal Lyn Coulter to introduce programs aimed at making the school the centre of community for families, particularly those moving into Bendigo’s fast growing northern corridor.

“Along with the school build we have been rebuilding the culture of the school from a small school to a close collection of families that are a community,” Ms Coulter said.

“For families new to the area and who have no other existing connections, we hope the school will become a focal point.”

Construction and the rise in student numbers have exacerbated challenges that have always plagued the school, most particularly the lack of space, but mitigation strategies have tended to bring the school community together, according to school council member Kylie Evans.

Ms Coulter and the school council have also been dealing with a last minute push by the City of Greater Bendigo to save the original century-old school building on site which, if they succeed, would burden parents with $15,000 a year in maintenance costs.

Underway since last year, construction has constrained the site and students have had no outside play space but daily lunchtime bus trips to the White Hills Botanic Gardens have made the school more visible in the broader community and provided increased
learning opportunities.

Parking has always been an issue for the school, which occupies a small piece of land on Howard Street, but with help from consultant Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells staff started a walk to school program that means parents are dropping off and picking up away students at points from the school.

Ms Evans said 20 parent volunteers had taken over the project this year, and as many as 40 students walk from nearby pick up points to school each day.

Howard Street, a busy arterial road linking Epsom and Eaglehawk, and the proximity of school buildings to traffic has long been a concern for Ms Coulter.

When designing the new school, a priority was to set it back from the road to diminish the effect of noise and pollution.

During the design process, the school also decided it would not include the original school building in plans.

As well as the maintenance costs, Ms Coulter said keeping it would mean giving up funded education space amounting to two classrooms in the new building.

Negotiating with the council had been frustrating, said school council president Scott Jefferis, because it was only when the Department of Education submitted a demolition order in September 2016 that councillors decided they wanted to keep the building.

Mr Jefferis said the school had heard nothing from the council until more than a year later when  there was a meeting to inform them the council would pursue a permanent heritage overlay on the site.

The school council remains unconvinced, Mr Jefferis said, and is likely to demolish the building soon after it is emptied.

“I acknowledge some loss of heritage, but the school council must consider what is best for the students and their education,” he said.

Construction is due to be complete by April.

– Sharon Kemp