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Hayball's Richard Leonard discusses the new Footscray Learning Precinct

The Victorian Government has given the green light for the first stage of the new Footscray Learning Precinct (FLP), which will include the redevelopment of Gilmore College for Girls and Footscray City Primary School following a commitment of $10.6 million in May's State Budget.

Hayball has been engaged to complete the master planning and advance designs for all sites in the precinct, including a new junior secondary campus. They are also the architects for the vertical learning schools currently under construction in Richmond and South Melbourne.

In what is being hailed as a first for Victoria by the Government, the FLP aims to better connect early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary education together in three local ‘hubs’.

The vision for the precinct is one where state-of-the-art facilities, such as a STEM learning centre, sports buildings and a performing arts venue, can be shared between schools, Victoria University and the wider community.

A glimpse at part of the plan for the Footscray Learning Precinct. Image: State Government of Victoria

Construction of the first stage is due to begin in 2018, and completed in time for the 2020 school year. This stage includes:

  • Upgrading facilities and expanding capacity at Footscray City Primary School. Additions include a three-court indoor sports and recreation building.
  • Refurbishing and modernising Gilmore College for Girls.

Key proposals for future stages include:

  • Reconfiguring Gilmore College for Girls as a co-educational school. It would become one of two junior (Years 7-9) secondary campuses in the precinct, with the other being a new vertical school to be built in Seddon at Pilgrim Street
  • Transforming Footscray City College into a senior secondary campus (Years 10-12), with a nearby STEM Centre delivered in partnership with Victoria University.
  • Building a performing arts centre at either the primary school or Gilmore College for Girls
  • Establishing an integrated early learning centre at the primary school in partnership with Maribrynong City Council.
South Melbourne Primary School and Richmond High School. Images: Hayball

Urban Melbourne discussed Hayball's appointment to master plan the FLP and how they will draw on their experience in the sector with Hayball Director Richard Leonard. This follows from a previous discussion from two years ago on the advent of vertical modes of learning.

Urban Melbourne: Hayball has considerable experience in the education sector and has built up an impressive body of work. How has/will this experience inform(ed) the design of the FLP?

Richard Leonard: The Footscray Learning Precinct is truly ground-breaking – it’s never been done before in Australia.

The project integrates education opportunities and facilities from cradle to grave, taking into consideration requirements from the community and future citizens. In a region that’s growing at a tremendous rate like the inner west, education is clearly an agent for transformational change in an urban context.

We have yet to put down pen to paper in terms of design– but what I can tell you is that it will bring together all of the experience, research and creative minds at the practice into a single project challenge.

UM: Hayball has also been at the forefront designing the first vertical schools here in Victoria, with more on the way. What model(s) can we expect for FLP?

RL: The entire model for the FLP is completely new. The interesting aspect is that there’s a broad spectrum of education facilities integrating together, from an early childhood centre, primary schools, secondary schools and a university. There’s are spread across three distinct precincts of learning within the suburb. This new model of linking places of learning with the community is the next frontier for education in Australia.

There’s actually a vertical junior secondary school envisaged for the precinct, which will be home to students in years seven to ten. The site is relatively small, but the value of integrating with the entire learning community means that we’re able to make the most of the smaller pockets of land in the inner city, because schools can share facilities with other schools nearby or with community facilities such as libraries, sports grounds etc.

UM: Is FLP an opportunity to test new ideas around teaching and learning?

RL: Yes it will be, but in a very different way, in the sense that it’s for all students at all stages in life. The concept of integrated cradle to grave education is a game changer, as is the way this entire precinct will link to the community and other service providers.

The inter-connected model allows schools to work together in terms of developing a consistent curriculum, sharing facilities, systems and resources, and ensuring pedagogies are streamlined so students can move from primary to secondary to tertiary education seamlessly. Overall, it’s improving the holistic approach to teaching and learning, providing students with better opportunities, staff with better resources, and creating better transitions for students.

From a design perspective, as this model has never been done before, we’ll certainly be gaining insights as to how we can support the inter-connected model through urban planning, interior design and architecture.

UM: How do you approach designing an education precinct rather than say a campus? What are some of the challenges and opportunities?

RL: Like any major project, the challenge is how we bring a number of stakeholders (schools), community groups and the council together in the visioning and decision-making process.

The other challenge – and opportunity I suppose – is that because there’s no design models to base this project on, we’ll be setting a new benchmark in terms of integrated learning precincts.

UM: How does the Footscray context inform the design of these schools both at a macro and micro level?

RL: The interesting thing is that the FLP is divided into three precincts – while they are all geographically close, they all have different cultural context and the communities are very different. So we have to take this into consideration.

The Department of Education quotes some astounding figures in terms of growth in Footscray – by 2040, there will be an 80% increase in the overall population, and not just children. As such, there’s a real need to address the future needs of the entire society, not just students.

One of the other things to touch on is that Footscray has always been home to a number of important education institutions. Victoria University and many of the schools have been there for decades so we’ll be taking that into our design consideration. The difference with this project is that while we’re creating a handful of new learning facilities, our primary goal is to assist with the integration and alignment of very significant institutions, community and service providers in the precinct.

In this way, education is at the centre of this model, and it’s being used as a method for transformational change in the urban environment, which is particularly important for the inner west of Melbourne. That’s the really exciting bit!

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