BUSINESSMAN Eddie Fowler fears that any push to move Welshpool’s kinder could mean “another nail” in the town’s coffin.
Today (Wednesday, August 22), South Gippsland Shire Council will vote on whether to put $30,000 toward a feasibility study to have “two kindergartens and ancillary services hubs to be co-located with the Toora and Welshpool primary schools”.
“There needs to be public consultation in both towns. And it needs to be in-depth consultation, not just token consultation,” Mr Fowler said.
“A couple of meetings we had – we had one at Welshpool Hall a few years ago and we had one at the Toora Hall a few years ago – 90 per cent of the attendees were people from this area. And everyone was of the same opinion – to retain what we’ve got. For Toora to retain theirs, and Welshpool to retain theirs.
“This community and Toora’s community have always worked hard to survive. It doesn’t matter what you’re talking about – whether it’s the football ground, the bowls, anything like that. People will raise the money to do it.”
He said the kindergarten had a similar history, as it was financially supported by a community that valued the service it provided. He believes any claim by Council of rights to the building would be hotly contested.
“The Shire say they’ve got $7000 listed there that they put into it in 1968 or 1969, or whatever it was. They reckon they funded it. We haven’t got documents, but we’ve got the word of the community to say the land was donated and the community built it,” he said.
“If it’s another building not being used, is the Shire going to sell it? Where is the money going to go? I see it as another nail in Welshpool’s coffin.”
Prom Coast Centres for Children – the not for profit organisation delivering childcare services in the region – is similarly passionate about seeing childcare services continue in Welshpool, though less concerned about the fate of the kinder building.
The PCCC committee of management expressed disappointment with the recommendation that followed Council’s Corner Inlet Early Years Services review in 2014, which suggested that existing kindergarten facilities in Toora and Welshpool should become one.
PCCC’s Kate Marriott said the move to the primary schools would be “a key factor in the viability of a rural town”. Her group is advocating the maintenance of four centres at Fish Creek, Foster, Toora and Welshpool and “continual development of these centres to meet families’ needs”.
“To this end, PCCC at a recent council presentation lobbied the council to complete this study into the co-located model and through the support of some of our local councillors we are delighted to hear that this has now been approved,” she said.
Rather than a death knell, she sees the move as a practical means of survival, with reduced costs being among the primary benefits. She concedes that parents have not yet been asked their opinions on the proposal.
“It has possibly been premature prior to this time to consider surveying families. We are looking into the future and are philosophically aligned with considering industry best practice,” she said.
“Since the co-located model was not considered in the 2014 Shire’s Infrastructure review as it focused solely on buildings, PCCC believe that this option needs to be fully investigated before any decision is reached on the future of the existing Kindergarten buildings in Toora and Welshpool.”
Welshpool mother Kym Beaton said she is behind the plan to move the kinder to the primary school site.
“From a parent’s point of view, being at the school is a 100 per cent better idea. It’s all there. You do one drop off and one pick up,” she said.
“It may also open up some more funding options for the school. It gives them more long term viability.”