SITE preparations in full swing for the construction of a hall at Casino West Primary School.
SITE preparations in full swing for the construction of a hall at Casino West Primary School.

Schools embroiled in costs scandal

SCHOOLS on the Northern Rivers have suffered from the costs scandal that has plagued the Rudd Government’s Building Education Revolution drive.

Parents’ groups from several schools have complained about changing ground rules for grants, overcharging by developers with their ‘snouts in the trough’ and schools ending up with buildings that don’t meet their needs.

Casino West Public School had a new hall built at a cost of more than $2 million. The trouble is it only fits 150 children, when the school roll tops 300.

“If the kids are prepared to sit on the floor we can squeeze them all in,” P&C representative Karen Armstrong said.

The school wasn’t offered any options on the size of the hall, but parents ‘kicked up a fuss’ and it was increased.

Of the $2.6 million granted the school under the BER scheme, $350,000 went out immediately in administration fees, Ms Armstrong said.

Site foreman Tony Monaghan said much of the cost of the project went on diverting a sewer pipe. He said it was so high because they had to dig through sandstone.

Casino High School is also disappointed at how the process had unfolded.

“We were supposed to get a whole new science laboratory,” said Ms Armstrong, who is president of the P&C there.

“It was even approved to go ahead, but a few weeks later the Government came back and told us that the project would go over budget.

“So we have had to gut the present buildings and give them a new fit-out.”

Alstonville Primary School was allocated $3.1 million for a hall and associated infrastructure, but it had involved a highly frustrating process, the school’s P&C vice-president, David Sproule, said.

“We had a great deal of difficulty clarifying what we were going to get and when we were going to get it,” he said.

“The ground rules about how the project was going to be implemented seemed to change daily.”

Mr Sproule said it was ‘quite obvious’ the building costs for the three small projects were well above the independent quotes the committee had sought.

“It is our view that these programs are costing far more than they would if they were better managed,” he said.

An ‘infrastructure group’ working within the P&C estimated the building costs worked out at $12,500 per square metre.

“We believe a cost of $3500 per sqm would be more than sufficient. A difference of $9000 is the kind of thing that needs to be explained at a Federal level,” Mr Sproule said.

The school considered man-aging the project itself, but it would have placed too much of a burden of responsibility on the principal, he said.

Mr Sproule said another flaw in the BER scheme was tough contractual conditions placed on a trader, which excluded small local firms.

“The very onerous requirements favour the large contractor, and make it almost impossible for the small trader to qualify as an ‘eligible contractor’,” he said.

Work at the school is expected to begin in the next few months.

“We’ll be watching closely to make sure we’re getting bang for our buck,” Mr Sproule said. But even when finished, the hall will not meet the needs of the school’s 550 students, he said.

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