They’re not demountable – they’re prefabricated

The bad old days – or back to the future? (John Slaytor)

In May 2017 NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said that demountable classrooms in the state’s schools are here to stay. We now know what he means.

The NSW Department of Education has called tenders for the “Development of a high-quality classroom model for NSW schools.

“New designs to develop classrooms that are fast to build, cost effective and meet future learning requirements are sought. The building type must be flexible enough to be customised for individual schools, including school halls and libraries, and could be delivered in multi-storey, multi-classroom blocks.”

The Department will hold a briefing session for interested parties in Sydney on Next Thursday 30 November. Representatives of companies attending must sign a Confidentiality Agreement.

The state’s current fleet of demountable classrooms are made by inmates in the prison system, by the state owned Corrective Services Industries (CSI), who will no doubt be tendering for the new work.

“We’re looking for innovative designs that will deliver high-quality classrooms that are great spaces to learn while remaining flexible for a public education,” Mr Stokes said in comments to Fairfax Media.

“We need to be able to construct permanent buildings which are responsive to demand and growth in student populations.”

The Government needs the new classrooms because the numbers of students in NSW state schools are growing quickly, A Department of Education ‘School Assets Strategic Plan’, published in June 2017, outlined the extent of the problem:

“For three decades, the NSW government school population has been stable, catering between 750,000 and 800,000 students. This began to change in the last five years, with student numbers increasing by around 30,000.

“This was due to increasing birth rates in the mid- 2000s, an increase in the number of females of reproductive age, intra state and international migration. The first of these children are now entering the school system – they represent the start of 15 years of sustained growth in our student population.

“By 2031, the number of students in NSW schools will increase from 780,600 in 2016 to 944,500 – representing a massive 21 percent growth in student numbers. This surge will not be uniform, as 80 percent will occur in Sydney, particularly in urban growth areas. Longer-term population projections indicate that Sydney’s growth will continue over the next 30 years.”

These numbers mean that 7200 extra classrooms will be needed by 2031. “This equates to 215 new schools, approximately 15 new schools a year; an outcome not financially sustainable.”

There are three ways to solve this problem, says the report: larger schools, new schools on smaller sites, and ‘prefabricated modular buildings’. It calls the last option a ‘minor intervention’, but it is obvious from the Government’s plans that it is anything but minor.

More than 10 percent of the classrooms in NSW public schools are demountables. For many years various governments described them as a temporary fix, but they are now regarded as permanent. Old-style demountable may be replaced with the new style prefabs, but by any name and in any style they are here to stay.

Last month the NSW Opposition obtained a confidential Education Department Request for Proposal (RFP) document through Freedom of Information laws. The RFP says there are currently 6,114 demountables in use in NSW in schools and TAFE sites, with nearly 1000 in storage and ready to be deployed.

“Current planning data identify significant growth in student enrolment numbers in future years,” says the RFP. “Enrolment projections to 2031 show a net demand for 5,796 demountable teaching spaces at NSW government school.

The RFP seeks advice from a suitably qualified and experienced consultant to investigate and examine “all possible cost-effective options” to expand the department’s existing demountable fleet based on forecast demand over the next 15 years. KPMG was awarded the contract, worth $300,000 according to ALP estimates.

Internal School Infrastructure NSW documents dating back to 2009 said there was a long-term plan to reduce the number, but their numbers have kept growing.

They will keep growing in the future. Just don’t call demountables.

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