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Uncertain Future for The Agricultural Centre for Excellence

Mar 11, 2024

Students were promised a state of the art agricultural learning house of excellence. Outdoor, learnings, labs,  a green house to develop specialised agricultural skills for future work placement. Five years since the Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Education opened its doors the high school experience for students has been isolating and full of broken promises.

Today the promised Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Education is an overgrown paddock, enclosed by tall chain link fencing. The site contaminated by PFAS, the exact source of the toxic forever chemical remains “under investigation”. Early reports are that it was bought in by contaminated fill.

For fee paying parents like Danielle Griffiths who’s daughter was selected to attend the school,  it’s a hard pill to swallow. “They don’t have anywhere to go, they don’t have any sense of a normal high school. They are just stuck in rooms (at the TAFE) they are misplaced. They just don’t have a normal high school experience.”

The NSW government has confirmed students will remain in temporary accommodation all this year and no promises are being made about when and where a new location will be confirmed or whether the facility will ever be built.

Responding to a series of questions from the Hawkesbury Post a spokesperson for Deputy Premier and Minister for Education and Early Learning Prue Car said students and staff will continue to operate in the temporary facilities at the Richmond TAFE facilities at least throughout 2024.

“The former Liberal National Government announced plans in 2019 to build a Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Education on a site that, unfortunately, is contaminated with PFAS,” Car said.

“We understand this situation has been disappointing for families. The Department of Education is exploring alternative locations for the Centre of Excellence facilities and will update the community as this work progresses,” she said.

Back in 2016/2017 the Liberal State Government was singing the virtues of the new $35 million fully selective school which they told prospective school parents it was expected to open in 2020. “This is the first high school in Hawkesbury in 30 years and now we can use it to interest young people with a passion for agriculture to combine that with some business acumen and cutting edge technology,” then Member for Hawkesbury Dominic Perrottet wrote to a parent. 

However those plans came to an abrupt halt last year when the NSW Department for Education released a progress report which said elevated levels of PFAS had been found in the groundwater at the site. Students who had competed to get into the selective high school so they could learn specialised agricultural skills were left in limbo. Their hopes of a promised state of the art agricultural learning centre, featuring a greenhouse, labs and outdoor learning were no longer in sight.

Today, four years after the school accepted its first enrolments the site is locked up. Still the school continues to accept students and has arranged for the expanding school population to be housed in demountables at Richmond TAFE.

The NSW Department of Education website is still promoting the yet to be built piece of infrastructure on its website, complete with pictures and videos of the facility and a 2022 commencement date.

“The NSW Department of Education is committed to delivering new and upgraded schools for communities across NSW including the Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Education. Co-located at the Western Sydney University Hawkesbury campus, the Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Education will be used as a statewide resource delivering world-class agricultural and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education,” the NSW Department of Education website states.

The real experience for Griffiths and her daughter has been anything but. “The situation has impacted my daughter as her friends, other students have left. We weren’t given what we were promised,” Griffiths said.

 

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