SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council will spend $30,000 on a feasibility study into the viability of placing kindergartens on primary school sites at Toora and Welshpool.
Cr Ray Argento made an impassioned speech at Council’s Wednesday, August 22 meeting, saying any moves to see a consolidation of services could well see Welshpool become a “ghost town”.
In 2015, Council resolved to investigate the idea of “one integrated community hub to meet the service requirements of a 22-place kindergarten and ancillary service for Toora and Welshpool in the next 5-10 years”.
Options included “a facility to be built at Toora Primary School” and “a facility to be built at Foster”.
Although the motion would eventually gain support, both Cr Maxine Kiel and Mayor Cr Lorraine Brunt would argue and vote against it.
“This is a discussion about the future of our small communities,” Cr Argento said, referring to Council’s Plan to “not forget about some of our smaller communities” and to listen to the concerns being expressed.
“Cr (Alyson) Skinner and myself have attended numerous meetings in the Corner Inlet region listening to those people,” he said.
Cr Argento said he had also spoken with the Prom Coast Children’s Centre (PCCC) committee, who were advocating for childcare services to be maintained via a co-location model.
“The previous study did not include a co-location model with the primary schools, because that wasn’t an option back then. But it is now a favourable option being developed across the state,” he said. He described spending $30,000 on the feasibility study as the “best bang for our buck”. Council has set aside $800,000 to spend on childcare services when the issue of what, where, when is resolved.
“We’ve seen what happens when you remove services from towns. You remove the banks, you remove the service stations, then all of a sudden the whole town is a ghost town,” he said.
“We’re talking here about a kindergarten. You remove a kindergarten and parents start dissociating. The next thing to go is the primary school due to lack of numbers. I’m not going to sit here and say, let’s build one at the risk of closing down a town.
“That’s effectively what we’re going to be doing. I won’t be putting one town over another for the sake of $30,000.”
But Cr Kiel posed the question, “How many studies do we really need?” “There’s already been two studies. One in 2015 and another in 2018, which Council has funded. The result of the second one gave us two options: a facility in Toora or a facility in Foster,” she said.
“Maybe we already know the answer. Why are we spending more money on yet another study? The numbers are falling for both groups. Let’s start to look to the future and be innovative, rather than reactive.
“No community likes to lose their services, as Cr Argento has said, but let’s start to come into the co-locations in one site. Reports have already been done. We should use this money to define one model.”
Cr Kiel said the feasibility study would build “community expectations that they might have the illusion now that there will be two sites”. “Come on councillors, let’s show some leadership and plan for one site,” she said.
Mayor Cr Lorraine Brunt said that, according to the information at hand, population growth in the region was not predicted to go up. “A significant capital investment in the two facilities cannot be justified,” she said.