Region's schools prepared for boom

THE schools of 2036 will lookvery much like the schools of today, from the outside at least.

North Coast school education director Greg Cloak said the Northern Rivers’ existing schools were expected to be able to handle population growth as the number of residents along the coastal strip surged by about 70,000 over the coming 26 years.

That was partly because of new schools already built at Ocean Shores, Teven-Tintenbar and Southern Cross K-12 at Ballina. Mr Cloak said existing schools on the Northern Rivers were also designed with room to expand to take extra students.

The question of how many extra students those schools were likely to have to deal with was an interesting one. While the number of people calling the Northern Rivers home was expected to grow, the age of those people was also expected to grow.

State Government population forecasts suggest the number of people aged 65 and over in Ballina Shire will top 17,000 in 2031, compared with a mere 7210 in 2001. Over the same period, the number of people in the 0-14 age group is expected to shrink from 7600 to 7560.

Byron Shire can expect an even bigger shift. The 3550 people in the 65 and over bracket in 2001 is predicted to nearly treble to 10,110 in 2031, while the 0-14 age group declines from 6260 to 6080.

It is a similar story across the region, but the shift is most staggering in Lismore, where the number of children is expected to tumble close to a third, from 9340 to 6850, while the number of elderly people jumps from 5420 to 12,790.

That said, Mr Cloak said the Education Department kept a close eye on population change so it could react quickly when official forecasts went awry.

“We have been doing this stuff for a long time in a growing area,” Mr Cloak said.

On the university front, Southern Cross University Vice-Chancellor Peter Lee declined to be interviewed for this series, but released a statement saying the university would ‘continue to grow to meet the demand of the region’.

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