It’s been a week since the pedestrian entrance to Alphington Grammar was taken down by the City of Yarra, and more than 500 children are going to school every day, with their parents worrying and the teachers even more stressed about keeping them safe.
This follows the Yarra Council’s decision to take down the gate, and execute the councillors resolution on 5 October to give access to the public to the creek that is on public land, situated after the dead-end street of Old Heidelberg which runs a few metres through the school.
The removal of the gate was done without further ado, even though from the first moment the issue was raised, the school and the Greek Community which owns the land was requesting that the Yarra Council give them time to prepare.
They have children in their care, some aged as young as five, and they don’t dare think of all the new dangers they have to add to their list of considerations with an open entrance which allows anyone to walk through.
Still haunted by the tragic accident of a young student at the school in 2003, which prompted them to place a restrictive barrier to cars entering the school grounds, they feel helpless and believe that it is lunacy on the part of the council to ignore all the risks.
More than 2,800 people have signed the petition to “Protect the students and staff of Alphington Grammar School” and express their disbelief that the children’s protection is not a priority.
The school has needed to hire security guards to work 24 hours a day to ensure that the children are safe.
To those who don’t know, prior to Alphington Grammar, another two schools had operated from the premises, and there has always been a boundary at the same place for the past 70 years.
I do not know of a single primary school that does not have a gate to keep their students safe. If the public wants access after hours, on weekends that is another matter altogether.
No one is arguing that there is public land beyond the school grounds. What people are worried about is the children. And it is incredibly concerning that an elected representative is not considering that and is not giving time to those responsible for the children to plan for their safety. Even if the school has not delivered fast enough the safety measures needed, according to the mayor, the children should be above the politics. They should come first. The council’s inflexibility and dramatic removal of the gate when the deadline expired last Tuesday afternoon, has made matters worse in sparking division within the community.
During the town council meeting on 5 October, the councillors agreed about giving access to the public with the safety of the children in mind. One asked if their was a risk assessment done. And there was not. Not just for the students but for the public accessing the creek.
The councillors who voted in favour of giving access to the public through the school, did not seem to be aware that nearly two years prior, Vic Roads had already assessed and rejected Old Heidelberg Rd for the development of a direct connection between Alphington and Darbin-Yarra trail stating on their website (www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/planning-and-projects/melbourne-road-projects/alphington-link) that the “introduction of additional pedestrians and bike riders would create a safety risk for all users throughout the day with children moving between school buildings, and particularly during Alphington Grammar school pick up/drop off times”, adding also that the steepness of the terrain would require long ramps to meet standards for accessible ramp gradients among other concerns. If the Councillors knew about this, they would not have added in their resolution that they, “in regard to the community submissions proposing a possible connecting link from the Old Heidelberg Road Reservation to the Darebin Creek Trail, resolve that The Mayor write to The Minister for Roads, The Hon. Ben Carrol MP advising of the various community proposals (i.e. a connection from Old Heidelberg Road reservation to the Darebin Creek Trail and a new Bridge crossing of Darebin Creek) and requesting the Department consider same.”
And despite mayor Wade telling us last week that taking down the gate for pedestrian access was not a major project as the Alphington Link proposal a few roads down (through Farm Road), is there anyone who can guarantee who and how many will be riding and walking through the school when children as young as five are around, with no gate to restrict them?
Who would send their children to a school without a gate?
According to the latest developments, from sources working on this issue, the Greek Community is trying to resolve it peacefully, with everyone’s benefit in mind, and according to the school principal Dr Vivianne Nikou, The Parents and Friends’ Association will be attending the Yarra Council meeting on 31 May to request councillors to consider the students’ safety as a first priority.