STUDENTS present and past, their families, teachers and members of the wider Toora community gathered at Toora Primary School last Tuesday for the official opening of the rebuilt school or the ‘Relocatable Replacement Project.’
Johan Scheffer MLC, Member for Eastern Victoria, officiated at the opening on behalf of the State Minister for Education, Bronwyn Pike, unveiling a commemorative plaque with the help of the school captains, Bailee Pavlou and Khyell Morgan.
Other distinguished guests at the opening, which took place almost a year after the building was completed and the students moved in – though the landscaping is still a work in progress – included the Director of Major Projects at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Gippsland, Don Paproth, South Gippsland Shire Councillors Jeanette Harding and Mohya Davies, former councillor Heather Bligh, principal of South Gippsland Secondary College Cheryl Glowrey (as Cheryl Hopkins a former Toora student) and Foster Primary School principal Fiona Bull.
Several former students who had been to Toora Primary in its first incarnation, when the school building was a hall relocated from Port Albert, attended last Tuesday’s opening. They were delighted to tour the new building, with its soaring ceiling, bright blue feature wall, abundance of windows and flexible learning spaces.
“There’s no comparison between this and the old school,” remarked Edgar Truscott, who was at Toora Primary in the late 1930s.
“It was a good school when I went here (1951 to 1956), but this building is right for now,” said Carol McDonald (nee Cummings). Her father, she said, ran a farm machinery and sporting goods shop in Toora in the 1950s.
Mr Scheffer MLC began his visit with a tour of the school, accompanied by the school captains, principal Barbara Purvis, school council president Danny Jenkins and Mr Paproth. He then gathered with the other guests in the central learning space, where everyone enjoyed a whole school performance of the national anthem followed by ‘This is Me.’ Young Alanna Dessent then shyly sang a solo.
Koori Engagement Support Officer John Murray acknowledged the traditional owners, the Kurnai people, and on their behalf welcomed everyone to Toora.
Mr Murray’s presence at the opening of the new school was particularly significant, because of his role in one of the most eye-catching works of art at the school. He worked with Toora students to create a colourful board consisting of outlines of the children’s hands traced out and then burnt using a pyrographic technique. The resulting artwork was hung on one of the school walls in time for the official opening.
Mr Scheffer began his speech by remarking that this was the first occasion he had had to acknowledge traditional owners since new arrangements recognising native title had come in to Victoria. A week earlier he had been privileged to attend a special sitting of the Federal Court at The Knob Reserve in Stratford, recognising the Gunaikurnai people’s traditional ownership across much of Gippsland and their unique rights to some 22,000 square kilometres of lands.
He expressed admiration for the fine new facilities he had just toured, thanked the school captains for being such good ambassadors for their school and congratulated everyone involved in the construction of the new building.
“A school is the heart of a community,” he said, and he had a special message for the students, telling them: “All this work on the new building has been done for you because you matter. You are very precious – don’t forget that.”
Mr Scheffer said the more than $2 million of funding from the state government for Toora Primary School to replace its relocatable buildings was part of a billion dollar investment by the government over ten years to rebuild schools across Victoria. He said that as well as improving the physical environment of schools, the government had been working on redeveloping the curriculum and investing in teachers, “which says that we value education”.
School council president Danny Jenkins congratulated school principal Barbara Purvis for managing to run the school in the midst of all the building work, and thanked the teachers, students and parents for coping so well with the transition from old school to new school building.
Deb Allott, who was school council president when Toora Primary first planned its rebuild, said that it had been “a long, drawn-out process”. She thanked the school councillors who had contributed to the design and completion of the new school and told the children: “I hope you appreciate the new building. It’s so nice to have a school which doesn’t leak – or flood!”
School principal Barb Purvis thanked Mr Paproth for his assistance as Director of Major Projects at the Department of Education and thanked the schools’ neighbours for their understanding and tolerance while the sometimes noisy rebuild was under way.
“They put up with a lot of inconvenience. That they did so epitomises what Toora is all about – its great community spirit,” said Mrs Purvis, also acknowledging Anthony Kennedy’s efforts in constructing extra shelves for the school, artist Fiona Kennedy’s work with students on a stunning mosaic for a school wall, and Coral and Danny Raby’s home grown flowers donated to decorate the school on this special occasion.
“Through working together we can achieve so much,” she said.
After the unveiling of the plaque, the oldest former student in attendance, Nancy Gasson, was given the honour of cutting the cake alongside Bob Roff, who was a school council president in the 1970s. The cake had been made by Helene Elmore, whose grandchildren attend the school, and iced in brilliant blue by Helen Nicholls, a former Toora school parent.
The opening concluded with guests invited to enjoy a delicious light lunch and a tour of the school buildings and grounds.