Seven weeks on from the rain bomb that flooded south-east Queensland, the state’s worst-hit schools have reopened for the start of term 2 but the focus has now turned to their long-term future.
- The QRA is working with the Education Department to develop a flood mitigation proposal for the six schools
- It will cost around $200 million and involves raising some buildings as relocating entire schools is unlikely
- The state government’s proposed package also includes other infrastructure like nearby roads so communities are not cut off from schools
It cost the Queensland government about $50 million to undertake work at the six campuses — Milpera State High School at Chelmer in Brisbane’s west, Aviation High at Hendra on Brisbane’s northside, Rocklea State School in Brisbane’s south, Milton State School in inner-city Brisbane, One Mile State School at Gympie and St Helens State School at Maryborough — to welcome back all students.
Nearby schools had to host most of the 2,200 displaced students, while some undertook home learning until they could return.
However this was a temporary solution, with the Education Department now undertaking extensive planning works to decide what’s next for the flood-affected schools.
One of the worst hit was Rocklea State School – the flood damage was so extensive the department ordered its administration and classroom blocks, which included a staffroom and computer lab, be demolished.
The library is one of the only remaining original buildings on site where the floodwaters came up to the floorboards of the elevated block —a blow for one of Brisbane’s smallest schools, which opened in 1885 and has 51 students enrolled.
Principal Julia Bailey said it was not the first time the school had flooded, and the removal of the buildings was difficult for the community.
“All of our active learning places were demolished,” she said.
Within two weeks, demountables were craned in and installed on the school grounds at Rocklea to create a brand-new school, which will remain on site for at least the next two years as a temporary solution.
‘Nothing off the table’ for future schools plan
Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace said the Queensland Reconstruction Authority (QRA) was working with the Education Department to develop a flood mitigation proposal for the six schools.
She said it would cost around $200 million and would involve raising some buildings as relocating entire schools was unlikely.
“We need to look at how best can we build back, either with betterment or improvement or flood mitigation on all of the schools,” Ms Grace said.
“Relocation is often difficult, but I think there are guidelines that suggest you have to be about six metres above where the floodwaters are, or to that extent.
“There are codes we have to abide by so the department’s done a calculation about what it would mean for some of the buildings to be built back in a much better flood-mitigated way than what they are at the moment, so if the water comes they don’t inundate the actual building itself.
“I think you can’t rule anything in or out as we live in uncertain times at the moment.”
She said the state government’s proposed package would also include other infrastructure like nearby roads so communities aren’t cut off from schools.
Ms Grace said she wanted the Commonwealth to split the costs 50/50, which could be a challenge after Prime Minister Scott Morrison initially rejected a $741 million package to help flood victims rebuild their homes before agreeing to help fund the package.
“The federal government has to step up,” she said.
“It was incredible that they had to backflip on even helping those people that still can’t go back to their homes.
“We’d like to get it done as soon as possible, and we would like the information back from the federal government – whoever that may be – we know we’re in caretaker mode so is it something we can pursue now? Do we have to wait until after the election?
“These are questions but we have to ensure when we do go in with a package it’s at the right time, at the right price, and it obviously meaningful for the infrastructure we need.”
A silver lining for flooded community
Despite a permanent rebuild for Rocklea State School being years away, some parents have viewed it as a chance to bring the flood-ravaged community together.
Lily Gulliford’s son Milton is in year 1 at the school, and was eager to return on Tuesday after weeks of attending classes at nearby Salisbury State School.
Ms Gulliford has lived in the suburb of Rocklea since she was a child, and said while it was devastating to see the school buildings demolished, it had created new opportunities for the school’s future.
“We now have an opportunity to sort of build this incredible learning environment for our kids that we can have the whole community be a part of the conversation about what it looks like, about what it involves, and then watch it happen together,” she said.
“With this process of building a school from the ground up, it’s going to be so important that we do have input from the community and we will be searching out for that.