JAMES Merlino’s visit to Wonthaggi was announced yesterday, confidentially, but word spread quickly through the town. The Education Minister was visiting Wonthaggi Secondary College on Friday morning to make an announcement.
When Mr Merlino was last in town in April 2016, with his cabinet colleagues, he virtually promised the shire a new secondary college. Hence the massive disappointment when there was no announcement in the 2017-18 state budget.
Clearly he wasn’t coming back to announce $7000 for new computers or a new cleaning contract. This time it had to be the real thing.
From 10.30am a steady stream of people arrived at the school. Most of them wore big smiles, but there was also an air of slight nervousness. They’d been let down so many time before. It couldn’t happen again, could it? Maybe it was another study, or a multi- staged project that will take a couple of decades to complete.
When the time came, it wasn’t the Education Minister who arrived but the Premier, Daniel Andrews, who was led down the hall to a very crowded school library.
“It looks as if the whole town has come out!” a senior education Department official said in amazement.
As Mr Andrews and Eastern Victoria MP Harriet Shing did a meet and greet with some slightly flummoxed students, the surrounding adults were abuzz.
At 11.15am, Mr Andrews addressed the room and quickly put everyone out of their misery. The state government has allocated $32.5 million to build a new Wonthaggi Secondary College on a site adjacent to the Bass Coast Specialist School.
The project will go to tender before the end of the year. Building will start early in the new year – perhaps even late this year. The project will take 18 months, which means the school should be finished by mid-2019.
Spontaneous applause broke out. Not a staged project over two decades but the whole thing in 18 months. Not an election promise but a done deal. This was beyond expectations.
Mr Andrews said the new college would have outdoor learning areas, a central plaza, a library and facilities for visual arts, graphics, materials technology and science. It will feature a new multi-sports highball stadium with three competition-grade basketball/netball courts, a canteen, change rooms and specialist spaces for performing arts, music and food technology.
The stadium, which will be part-funded by $1.5 million investment by the council, will be available for community use.
Acting principal Darren Parker was close to tears when he spoke. “It’s an amazing day for our college and the whole Bass Coast area,” he said. “This will have a positive impact on many lives.”
Bass Coast Mayor Pamela Rothfield said it was the biggest investment ever made in Bass Coast. “This issue has galvanised the whole Bass Coast community.”
Another one close to tears was Bass Coast deputy mayor Brett Tessari, who attended the school in the 1980s. “It was a disaster case back then,” he said. “I can’t believe it’s finally happening.”
If the Premier was seeking light relief after a trying week, he surely found it in the looks of relief and pure joy in that room.
There were grins everywhere as the news radiated out. Just down the road from the school, the Coffee Collective’s James Archibald quickly rewrote his advertising blackboard to spread the good news.