Historical Epsom school building knocked down

UPDATE 11.10am: The president of the Epsom Primary School Council says the decision to knock down the school’s old red-brick building was in the best interests of the students.

Scott Jefferis said the building was no longer fit for purpose, given its age, design, the cost of maintenance and the cost of having it expanded.

He said the costs associated with the old building were greater than that of building the school’s new multipurpose room, which was a third larger in floor space than the original building.

Mr Jefferis told the Bendigo Advertiser that had the building been kept, it would have limited the area of outdoor play space for students.

The area of open play space the school had was small, he said, given the number of students.

“Our obligation is in the best interests of the students, so that’s why we made that decision,” Mr Jefferis said.

Had the building been kept, the Education Department would not have funded its maintenance, he said, and the council felt it was not fair to put that cost on the parents of the school.

Mr Jefferis confirmed the builders were instructed to retain some of the original materials for future use.

He said there were no firm ideas as to how they would be used yet, but they would be used to acknowledge the school’s heritage.

UPDATE 10.30am: A City of Greater Bendigo director says the council is disappointed in the demolition of the old building at Epsom Primary School, but respects and understands the state government’s decision to do so.

Director health and wellbeing Vicky Mason said council staff understood the decision to remove the building was a trade-off to provide play space for children, rather than maintain an old building, for which there was not enough money.

The council advocated for the building to be retained and applied for an interim heritage overlay on the 137-year-old building, but that was declined by Planning Minister Richard Wynne in 2016.

The council’s White Hills and East Bendigo Heritage Study identified the building as having local heritage significance and would apply a permanent heritage overlay at the site.

However, the council is still awaiting approval from Mr Wynne on the study.

But Ms Mason explained that while the study, if it had been approved before the demolition, might have influenced the Victorian School Building Authority, the agency still had the power to override such planning controls anyway.

The building will not be entirely lost, though.

Ms Mason said some of the original bricks and foundation stones would be kept, and the council would work with the school and its council to create a momento of the building.

EARLIER: A historical Epsom Primary School building is being demolished this morning as the school progresses upgrades.

The building’s demolition has been at the centre of a dispute between the City of Greater Bendigo and the school.

The council had argued the building was “locally significant” and should be protected.

Yet final plans for the school’s upgrade left no room for the building, and the school had argued it was no longer fit for purpose.

The council had adopted a White Hills and East Bendigo heritage study that it hoped would apply a permanent heritage overlay to the site. That study required the approval of the state’s planning minister.

A previous interim heritage overlay requested by the council after plans were first lodged, was knocked back by planning minister Richard Wynne in 2016.

This morning workers began demolishing the building.

More to come.

Watch the live stream of the demolition here: