17 January 2023

Wagga suburbs cut off from school grounds despite 'Share Our Space' initiative

| Chris Roe
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Dan Hayes

Dan Hayes wants to know why Wagga’s schools are not open to the public in the holidays. Photo: Chris Roe.

Wagga councillor Dan Hayes has shared his frustration over Wagga’s fenced-off school ovals remaining closed through the school holidays.

“It’s quite a loss to the community and to our suburbs where you used to be able to get a footy, go across the road and have a kick,” he said.

“With all these fences now, people have to look online to even see if their local school is open.”

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Cr Hayes said the NSW State Government’s Share Our Space program, which aims to open up school ovals and facilities during the holidays, was not delivering.

“The motion I took to the council in 2020 was when the Estella school was being built and the Department of Education wanted to partner with the council to do shared facilities,” he explained.

“But at the same time, they were putting up giant fences and we were losing all that green space, cricket nets, basketball courts, all that sort of stuff, from the community.”

security school fence

New school fences surround both the buildings and the grounds. Photo: Chris Roe.

The Share our Space program promises to “meet our commitment to ensure that everyone has access to quality outdoor facilities during school holidays” and the homepage announced that “from Wednesday 21 December 2022 until Sunday 22 January 2023, the outdoor facilities at hundreds of schools will be open”.

They promise to work with stakeholders “to determine which schools are best suited for Share Our Space” and to prioritise locations “where green space or sporting areas are in short supply”. They also take into account the ongoing use of the facilities for vacation care and planned site works.

Some Riverina schools, including five in the Griffith LGA and in smaller villages such as Coolamon and Lockhart, are registered for the program, but the region’s largest population centre does not have a single school listed over the summer break.

“Not one school in Wagga LGA was participating and when I’ve looked more generally, it looks like only about 17 per cent of schools in the state are participating,” Cr Hayes said.

“I find it ironic that the Department of Ed is going to councils to get them to contribute to shared facilities, but then locking away these facilities from our suburbs.”

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NSW Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell said that across the state, the program was growing and suggested that the months of wild weather were behind Wagga’s closed gates.

“It’s fantastic that more than 700 public schools have opened up to their local communities to enjoy these summer holidays in our Share Our Space program – the largest number of participating schools to date,” she said.

“Due to recent flooding events, our schools in the Wagga Wagga area were not included in the Share Our Space program for this holiday period. We’re mindful that schools in the area were impacted by road closures and may have repair works taking place on-site.

“While they are not formally taking part in the program, we know that some may still open up their ovals and outdoor areas to the community.”

In 2022, Red Hill Public School and South Wagga Public School both took part in the program.

Cr Hayes said he accepted that there were always going to be good reasons that would require some schools to opt out, but he hoped that the gates would open in Wagga in the near future.

“I think this just proves that the schools are so central to our community, to our suburbs, to our villages,” he said.

“In my view, the default position should be that it’s going to open and that an application to close it has to be done rather than the other way around.”

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