Old school site purchase moves forward

By Jared Loughnan

Moira Shire Council has agreed to move further with an intended acquisition of the former Yarrawonga Primary School site on Piper Street.

Members of the community have been pleading with council to share their vision for more important community space by acquiring the centrally located site.

Moira Shire Council CEO Mark Henderson confirmed council had agreed to respond to Department of Treasury and Finance’s (DTF) first right of refusal (FROR) process to try to secure the site. 

“Advice from DTF is that because of the scale and complexity of the site and other processes required by government policy it expects the FROR process to take some time to complete,” Mr Henderson said.

“The unresolved heritage nomination of the site remains as a significant factor that could influence the site’s valuation.”

In a meeting last week behind closed doors councillors authorised CEO Mark Henderson to negotiate with DTF, with the final form of that negotiation requiring council approval. 

The Yarrawonga Community Action Group (YCAG) had unanimously moved a motion to request Moira Shire Council to acquire the site as part of the FROR from the Department Victorian Education and Training at a community meeting Monday, March 16.

YCAG spokesperson Helen White said many community groups are keen to use the existing buildings for such purposes as an arts and crafts gallery, recitals, historical and public interest displays. 

“The former Yarrawonga Fire Station could be used for youth activities,” Mrs White said.

“The classrooms suit repurposing as meeting spaces, a yoga room and as headquarters for local groups.

“Yarrawonga Urban Landcare is currently looking for a permanent home for their equipment and would be willing to assist with landscaping and maintaining the grounds. 

“Most importantly the site would provide ample parking and be ideal for the visitor centre,” she said.

Moira Shire Council have until April 17 to take advantage of a FROR after the Department Victorian Education and Training listed the site on February 18, 2020.

Mrs White said they were pleased to be given details of the current position for Moira Shire to acquire the “much-desired” parcel of land for community use. 

“An in-depth explanation of First Right of Refusal clarified the timing and process through which Moira Shire Council may negotiate with the Department of Treasury and Finance to acquire the former YPS site for the community,” Mrs White said.

“Various speakers addressed the meeting on their vision for the site - how it could look and provide a well-appointed and attractive community space - as in other municipalities. 

“For instance, Berwick’s Pioneer Park is where there once was a school. Casey Shire acquired this site in 2009 in response to a community campaign. The main school building was retained and its central location and excellent gardens, playground, picnic facilities and memorials make it a very popular place for both locals and tourists.” 

Mrs White said the heritage values of the site and the importance of its preservation was also clearly outlined. 

“As in other towns, a user’s group committee or board could be formed to help with the management of the site.” 

All in attendance at the community meeting were encouraged to let their councillors know their preferences to keep the area for the people and to point out how its acquisition would support the intentions of Yarrawonga’s Urban Design Framework to provide for the growing population and to retain Belmore Street as the main shopping street.