Council, school still divided on future of Epsom primary school building as wait continues for planning minister's response

BEFORE: This 1881 red brick building at Epsom Primary School is at the centre of a planning dispute between the school and council.
BEFORE: This 1881 red brick building at Epsom Primary School is at the centre of a planning dispute between the school and council.

The clock is ticking on Bendigo council’s bid to save an historic red brick building at Epsom Primary School, as plans for its demolition grow nearer.  

City of Greater Bendigo staff say the building, which was constructed in 1881, has been identified as “locally significant” and should be protected.

But final plans for the school’s upgrade, currently under construction and scheduled for completion by April, leave no room for the building.  

Epsom primary council president Scott Jefferis said the building was no longer fit for purpose.  

He said upkeep on the 130-year-old structure was expensive and something the school could not afford to maintain it, Mr Jefferis said.

It also ate into the available space and did not match the school’s vision for open learning spaces, he said.

“It no longer suits the purpose of the school, and we've designed a school without that building in mind,” Mr Jefferis said. 

An interim heritage overlay on the site, requested by the city after plans to demolish the building were first lodged, was declined by Victorian planning minister Richard Wynne in November, 2016.

Last November, the council adopted a White Hills and East Bendigo heritage study that would apply a permanent heritage overlay on the site. 

City of Greater Bendigo health and wellbeing acting director Lincoln Fitzgerald said the study, which includes the red brick building, was still awaiting consideration by the minister. 

“The city is considering a range of management options, as well as potential uses which would be best suited at this location,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

But Mr Jefferis said any council plan would need to be “an attractive offer to the school because it’s going to lose footprint”.

A proposal for the City of Greater Bendigo to occupy part of a multi-purpose room destined for the school were knocked back by council in 2016 because other public spaces were not yet at capacity. 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: A heritage study that could help save the building is currently before the planning minister. Council adopted the study in December. Picture: NONI HYETT

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: A heritage study that could help save the building is currently before the planning minister. Council adopted the study in December. Picture: NONI HYETT

A spokesman for Mr Wynne’s office confirmed the heritage amendment was under consideration, and said it would affect a number of properties.

It is not known when the building is planned for demolition.

A new teaching space opened at the primary school on the first day of Term 1. According to a post on the school’s Facebook page, the upgrade was behind schedule and students would be taken off-site at lunchtimes until grounds were ready.