Department for Education officials told Adelaide city councillors last night that 1800sqm of Adelaide Park Lands was needed to accommodate the expanding Adelaide Botanic High School, with the government seeking a land swap to seal the deal.
‘Ongoing cannibalisation’: Councillors grill govt over park land school development
Councillor Keiran Snape asked the government officials whether the pitch – that the Adelaide City Council should relinquish a parcel of Nellie Raminyemmerin Frome Park to allow the development of another Adelaide Botanic High School building – tainted a “recent win” which saved several Frome Road trees.
“Isn’t there a risk that sours the earlier victory that the government and community and council has had with those trees?” he asked.
Department for Education chief operating officer Ben Temperly said he was “not sure” if he could answer the question, but the department saw the ability to provide sufficient secondary education within the CBD as a “win” for the local community.
“Forecasts from 2020 and 2021 identified the need for an additional 1000 student places in the CBD in the north, with the majority of those required to cater for families within the CBD – so Adelaide High School and Adelaide Botanic,” Temperly said.
“The department reviews… the demand of school capacity on a constant basis, looking at the factors that drive the changes in the demand and therefore the requirement for enrolment placements in various locations.”
Government officials were at Adelaide Town Hall last night to provide councillors with a formal update on the proposed Adelaide Botanic High School expansion, first announced last year by the Liberal Government and further confirmed this year by Labor.
It comes despite the Adelaide City Council voting in February for Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor to write to all South Australian political parties communicating the council’s objection to any development or rezoning of the park, which contains significant Kaurna sites and is near a grey-headed flying fox habitat.
The Liberal Government initially costed the new eight-storey building – aimed at accommodating 700 extra students, taking the total capacity to 1950 – at $97 million.
This new proposal, however, includes a Memorandum of Understanding with the council, stipulating “no net loss to publicly accessible open space within the parklands”, no trees felled in the construction process, a possible land swap agreement plus “payment”.
“No trees will need to be touched at all during the construction,” said the Department for Education’s head of infrastructure Bill Glasgow.
“We’re looking for a very narrow – if you like – vertical expansion of the school on the southern side of the school, and to maintain those vistas and views,” he said.
Veteran Adelaide city councillor Anne Moran asked why the government wanted to build on “virgin park lands” and whether other options had been explored.
“You say you’re not going to be back in three years, but somebody very likely will be back in some years and that’s what our job is: to protect park lands,” she said.
“Was there any consideration or was it first cab off the rank, park lands?”
Temperly said there were 33 other sites explored including privately-held properties, but the location and “availability of the space” made this option the most favourable.
Councillor Alexander Hyde also raised concerns about the type of land swapped if the council came to an agreement on the MOU, and whether there would be further expansions of the school and how this would impact the area.
“We’re about to enter or look into a memorandum of understanding or to collaborate, to borrow your language, but I’m just concerned – giving your colleague said there were no plans – how can we trust that there aren’t plans to expand?” he said.
“Especially in the context of what we’ve been through, with all that rezoning we were told nothing would be built here… and here we are, mere months later, discussing the building which was clearly in the pipeline before that.
“It just comes down to that fundamental issue of trust.”
Glasgow said the department was trying to find suitable land swap options to be presented to the council at a later date.
The council formally provided feedback to the State Government in November regarding its push to rezone up to 71ha of Adelaide Park Lands – almost 10 per cent of the city’s green belt – for a range of initiatives.
The Riverbank Precinct Code Amendment was ultimately approved by then-Planning and Local Government Minister Josh Teague and came into effect on 21 January 2022.
While there were some changes to the amendment following community consultation, Nellie Raminyemmerin Frome Park, which sits between Frome Road and the Botanic Garden and is the government’s proposed site for the school exapnsion, was rezoned despite council opposition.
Verschoor last night lamented the “ongoing cannibalisation” of the Adelaide Park Lands, after the meeting heard from the school project’s primary lead consultant Niko Tsoukalas, from design and engineering firm Aurecon.
Tsoukalas said the proposed development site was desirable for “what it represents”, being near to the innovation precinct Lot Fourteen,
The Lord Mayor said successive governments had chipped away at the city’s 776ha green belt for “public purpose” – such as the proposed new Women’s and Children’s Hospital car park in Tulya Wardli Bonython Park – ultimately resulting in “less and less” green space.
“We take our duty very seriously in terms of custodians of those park lands,” Verschoor said.
“I am very happy to hear there will be no net loss [as] net loss is something that we’re very keenly focussed on and that is around open, accessible… upgraded, desirable.”
Before the administration provides councillors feedback and advice at next month’s council meeting, the Department for Education will make its formal proposal.
Head of not-for-profit watchdog group, the Adelaide Park Lands Association, Shane Sody told CityMag the State Government was “trying to pretend” a proposed eight-storey building on park lands “will not destroy” park lands.
“There are plenty of alternative sites, because many high schools (and prestigious universities) have split campuses,” he said in a statement.
“The Government claims they would negotiate with the city council a ‘land swap’ so that there would be no net loss of publicly accessible park lands.
“Yet they have not identified any site where they would intend to demolish a building or fences to return land to Open Green Public status.”