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The chicken or the egg?

16 Jan 2012

The timeless problem of which comes first is becoming an issue for Southbank. The local version features a school and families rather than the traditional chicken and egg, but the riddle remains the same.

The problem is a simple one: Does Southbank really need a primary school given its low number of families in the demographic needing one? Or are there only a small number of families living here because of the lack of this most important facility?

One thing remains certain: A primary school would guarantee to make Southbank a more family-friendly location to live and, with our projected growth over the next few decades, this will become more important.

With a story in this edition about the ever-expanding Port Melbourne Primary, it is time a local primary school was seriously looked at for Southbank, not just talked about.

As Port Melbourne Primary principal Peter Martin says: “Every child in the inner city should have a primary school within walking distance.”

It is important to consider that as Port Melbourne PS runs out of room, it will eventually be forced to tighten its zone, blocking Southbank students from enrolling and leaving them with little public school options south of the city.

The benefits of a local primary school aren’t just confined to those with primary school-aged children. A school would give Southbank a key meeting place or, as MP Martin Foley puts it, “some heart”.

An example of this “heart” was shown to me on a recent trip to my hometown on the Mornington Peninsula. I visited my old primary school, which was holding its annual arts fair fundraiser.

In a town with a population of less the 2000 (that’s 12,000 less than Southbank) the school attracted a huge crowd, many of whom (such as my family) hadn’t had a direct connection to the school for more than 10 years, while others never had an association, but just enjoyed being part of the school community.

The place was buzzing. Art, wine, music, dancing and, most of all, fun. This was the sort of event, in the sort of place that really brings a community together.

It proved that school grounds can be much more than just a primary school. It’s the kind of meeting place so desperately wanted by Southbank residents.

Southbank Residents’ Group secretary Mary-Jo Lynch puts it well when she says: “It (a local primary school) is not just for the parents and children missing out on the facility but it would also double as a community space.”

The “build it and they will come” adage needs to be adopted, as the school doesn’t have to have hundreds of pupils right away (although the growth predictions from Port Melbourne Primary would suggest otherwise). As the suburb grows, so too will its school.

The time for action on a school is now. It is the facility the suburb needs more than any other, and one that can be used as both a school and a community builder.

Maybe then we can start working on getting the chicken across City Rd.

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