'It's all worthwhile': Kalianna parents celebrate the start of new school construction

Kalianna parents Val Oppatt, Marg Rogers and Merv Nichols gathered 4200 signatures on a petition calling for a school upgrade. Their hard work has come to fruition as construction starts on the $15.6 million project. Picture: Adam Holmes
Kalianna parents Val Oppatt, Marg Rogers and Merv Nichols gathered 4200 signatures on a petition calling for a school upgrade. Their hard work has come to fruition as construction starts on the $15.6 million project. Picture: Adam Holmes

IN winter, a Kalianna School teacher had to bring her own heater into the classroom to keep students warm.

In the summer, the air conditioning hardly worked at all.

Toilets were leaking, rain would come through the roof and students were crammed in small classrooms.

“It was just bandaid after bandaid,” parent Val Oppatt said.

“It was in a shocking state.

“We thought, gee, we could do something about this. It’s not good enough.”

Related: Kalianna to ‘break the mould’ of special schools

When new principal Peter Bush asked parents to petition their local area for funding to upgrade the school, three parents took it upon themselves to make sure the Bendigo community understood their cause.

Ms Oppatt, Marg Rogers and Merv Nichols went from Huntly to Kangaroo Flat and quickly amassed 4200 signatures to present to the Victorian parliament.

They sat outside supermarkets, knocked on doors and approached people in the street looking for support.

“I never got knock-backs or negative comments from anyone once you told them how the school was,” Ms Oppatt said.

An artist's impression of the entrance to the new Kalianna School.

An artist's impression of the entrance to the new Kalianna School.

After four years of advocacy, their hard work has paid off.

They watched proudly on Thursday as the first sod was turned on the $15.6 million works on Kalianna School – a project that includes the construction of a 370-square metre multi-purpose room.

It incorporates a commercial and domestic kitchen, and rooms for music and dance.

For the parents, it will be a school fitting the students’ positive attitudes.

Ms Rogers said it was a unique school where children with special needs could learn in a comfortable and understanding environment.

“When you come here, the kids come up to you, they’re so happy. They’re so happy here in this environment,” she said.

“You look at these kids and you say, it’s all worthwhile.”

Other parents believed the upgraded school would allow Kalianna to share its supportive atmosphere with more families from across the region.

One parent said her child with autism was in mainstream schooling from prep to Grad 6, suffering regular anxiety attacks.

“He came to Kalianna and within three months you could see the change,” she said.

New Kalianna School to be an example to others

Teachers at schools across the state will be able to visit Kalianna School to learn how to teach their students with special needs such as autism.

Kalianna principal Peter Bush said it was one of the most exciting aspects of the $15.6 million school build, and would mean students might not have to travel to Bendigo from far away towns to access specialised teaching.

The floor plan of the new building.

The floor plan of the new building.

“Our main purpose of this school is to be a resource for mainstream so we can support students like ours in mainstream schools so they don’t have to travel so far from Wedderburn and Kyneton to come here,” he said.

The school will be able to expand its enrolment to 280 once the project is complete.

The first stage is expected to be complete by the end of 2018, to be immediately followed by the second stage after the school secured complete funding.

Mr Bush said there would be minimal disruptions for students, who were looking forward to seeing the construction equipment arrive.

He said any inconveniences were a small price to pay for the ultimate outcome.

“They’re ready after today to go full bore, they’re going to demolish the building behind us and start construction on the new site,” Mr Bush said.

“We’ve been fighting for a long time to get to this day. It’s unbelievable to finally get here.”

Member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards turned the first sod on Thursday after ensuring the state government funding would flow to Kalianna.

She said it was an exciting day for all involved.

“This school is old, it’s tired. The students will have such a better environment to do their work in and it’s drawing students from right across the region,” Ms Edwards said.