Community Update – JUNE 2023
This is our opportunity to provide an update on the progress to achieve a Montessori High School in the Moreton Bay region. We understand that it has been some time since we have provided an update on the High School, so we appreciate your patience. The Board is composed of former and current parents of CMS, some who have been associated with the school for over 18 years. We are all committed and passionate about the establishment of a High School in the Moreton Bay region.
High School Objective
The objective we set out to achieve was to establish a Montessori Adolescent Program, leading to a High School, while maintaining the viability of the Caboolture Montessori School. This has been on the Strategic Plan for a number of years. To achieve this, there is a balance with the other strategic goals, including other five-year goals such as,
• Continue expanding the toddler, the early childhood and the primary community
• Maintaining exceptional early childhood care
• Participating in a leading role in Montessori education
• Be the school of choice in the region
There are a lot of things to consider, it is more than just finding a property and starting.
Therefore, Base Line Up Front – att this stage, we are unable to fund the establishment of a High School to commence in 2025, with the start date now likely to be 2027, however we are continuing to explore opportunities to start sooner. The efforts to establish a High School has so far has been a 5-year journey and along the way we have learned a lot about local properties, Government regulations, dealing with Council and the complexities of trying to meet a myriad of regulations.
Over this time, we have been busy, but are ultimately hampered by being a small school trying to fund a significant endeavour.
High School Curriculum
A number of activities have been conducted and the Adolescent Curriculum has been developed and the final version is ready for review and approval by the Non-State Schools Accreditation Board, once we have secured a site. To develop the curriculum, Yvonne and Jai Bishop (who was the Deputy Principal at the time) visited many secondary schools in Australia (Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Qld) and researched various non-Montessori curricula run in countries globally. They wanted to understand what curriculum elements are working and what could be improved.
They worked with another Montessori Principal who has established a number of high schools and other educationalists to ensure our curriculum met all the Australian requirements as well as maintaining the genuine Montessori Adolescent framework designed by Dr Montessori. The final version is the best program we could design that meets the vision of a progressive and futuristic curriculum. So, rest assured that Yvonne and her team have considered a full and complete program for the High School, that is ready to go.
Primary School growth
A critical aspect of the plan to establish a High School has been the growth of the Primary School. Growth of the primary school is required to ensure there are sufficient students in Cycle 3, in the Grade 6 cohort to be considered for enrolment into the High School. Over that last 5 years, the school has grown by 11%, which is pretty good, considering the socio-economic challenges over this time.
With an understanding that perhaps not every child would transition into the Montessori High School, there is a need to maximise the student numbers to ensure success of the High School. Having close to 30 students eligible for High School in Grade 6, which will be achieved next year, will give us the confidence to commence with approx. 50% transitioning to High School, but of course this may be higher. Our initial estimates are based on having 12-15 students commencing in Year 7, hence the need to ensure there are sufficient student numbers in Cycle 3.
To allow for this growth, we have needed to execute the Master Plan for the Primary School which has involved investment into the completion of the classrooms in the main building. The other consideration has been the development of the covered court to ensure there is a place for assemblies and sports, but more so as a means to continue to support the Primary Students through the growth and maintenance of the existing facilities. Maintaining the viability of the Primary School has always been and will continue to be the number one priority when considering a High School. We are absolute that we will not compromise the continued operation of the Primary School with the establishment of a High School.
Unfortunately, there have been delays in the planning for the High School that have been associated with the effects of COVID. Despite the good 5-year growth, COVID has slowed the growth of the primary student numbers, and delays in the execution of external development activities have affected the planning for the High School.
As you would imagine, our focus over 2020 and 2021 were on other aspects. There were also some financial impacts associated with COVID, that were not anticipated, including some staff changes which results in additional costs, and other costs associated with dealing with COVID in the school.
High School Campus Master Plan
Another positive activity has been the development of a Master Plan for the High School that has been completed by the architect who designed the multi storey building.
The completion of a Master Plan is critical to establish and confirm our understanding of what infrastructure is needed for a High School and how to grow the school when it starts. The plan also helps us set out a site so that future growth is considered from the beginning and early construction will not need to be undone or moved.
When a suitable site is confirmed, the architect will be engaged again to help us correctly orientate the buildings and lay out a construction plan to suit the development of
The Master Plan will allow us to have more detailed discussions with local land holders, developers and Council in the search for a suitable property.
The primary source of income for the school is enrolments, this is no surprise. This means that we need to grow the Primary School numbers to get more money through the door to pay for upgrades and maintenance of the Primary School, but also to assist with funding the High School. To allow for the growth of the Primary School numbers, for a number of years we have continued to develop this site, back to the time of the initial establishment of the multi storey building, the infill underneath, through to the construction of the covered court. These facilities are essential to ensure there is sufficient room for student growth, but also to demonstrate to the parent community that we are continuing to invest in the school. However, this is a two-edged sword, as the development of the Primary School is a contributing factor in the financial viability of a High School.
Another side effect of COVID has been the escalation in the cost of everything, which translates to significant cost increases in construction. This was experienced with the construction of the infill classrooms and the covered court, to the point where reductions in scope were needed from the initial plan of the covered court to ensure we only built the building we could afford. To fund a High School we have some cash and need to loan as much as we can, but like any budget, this is subject to our income, so while we continue to build the Primary School numbers and increase our cash reserves and pay down loans, this does not happen fast enough to meet the financial need of constructing a High School by 2025.
We understand that for the first few years, the Primary School will need to financially support the High School, which is a significant consideration, but more so, the Primary School will need to fund the construction and establishment costs of the High School as there is no income from the High School, till there is a High School.
We will use the High School Master Plan to set out a road map for construction and will use the ideas provided to guide our vision, however even starting off with a limited number of buildings is going to cost a lot of money.
Now that we have an idea of the infrastructure needed to start a High School, which may commence with a small number of demountable buildings, potential sites will require the establishment of power and water infrastructure, consideration of sewerage (if we are on a rural property), then we need to consider the roads, turning lanes, driveways and carparks, all of which are essential for the school, but add no educational value. On top of this, there will be development and approval costs as well as professional services fees. An example of this is the indicative costs for a demountable building being approx. $300,0000, where we are likely to need two of these to commence the High School. A vacant block of land will need a driveway, and carpark, which will easily cost in excess of $500,000-$600,000, then there are the utilities and consultant fees, approvals costs, and establishment fees. The construction costs escalate quickly, all funded by the Primary School.
From a financial perspective, for a small not-for-profit organisation, there are a number of considerations and at this point in time we just don’t have the financial capacity to commence the High School. But we are getting there and have not given up yet.
With the student numbers needed to commence the High School growing to plan, and the curriculum in place and the finances considered, a suitable property is needed.
Government considerations. There has been a significant amount of work in numerous meetings with Council to discuss availability of land locally, changes in legislation need to be considered and the overall approvals process understood, which seems to keep on changing.
Along the way we have learned that a lot has changed in terms of the requirements for the development of a new School. Such that we have been advised that the Primary School could not have commenced the way it did 25 years ago under current regulations. The council has stated that we would not get approval to have this school in the current location. It has been difficult to get support from State Government and Local council. Yvonne has raised the establishment of the High School with Federal members, State members, local councillors and other Government bodies.
Most recently the team met with the Moreton Bay Regional Council Mayor, representatives from the Council and the State Member for Glasshouse. The meeting was very constructive and provided some good advice on things to consider, but at the end of the day, the council is not able to release any land to us for the development of the High School. Although the council needs additional schools in this region, they are unable to assist. We will continue to work with the council and hope that we can get some assistance through expedited approvals or cost reductions for approvals, but this is yet to be seen.
There is funding available from the Queensland Independent Schools Block Grant Authority who are a not-for-profit company that receives and distributes capital funds to independent schools in Queensland on behalf of the Australian and Queensland Governments. As you would imagine, they don’t just hand money out, which would be nice, but there are a series of requirements to meet, prior to submitting an application or gaining approval.
Firstly, is a long-term site is needed, which can be achieved through purchasing land or a long lease, typically around 20 yrs. Assistance may be provided for the purchase of land, but there is a complication as their approval and funding cycle is unlikely to be acceptable to a potential vendor.
The approval cycle occurs early in the year, for approval later in the year for funds to be released the following year. So, if we were successful to get funding assistance to purchase land, we would need to ask the vendor to wait for 12 months to get the BGA funding before we can commit, which is just not feasible, especially when properties are being sold not long after they come onto the market. We will look to use BGA funding for buildings, when a site is confirmed, where they have historically provided around 40% of the project cost, which is outstanding support, but also means we need to fund the rest and potentially all of the project if not approved. This is another funding consideration in that we need to be able to fund the vast majority of any construction project. Start at CMS. The Board has considered the option of commence the High School at CMS, which is only a suitable option in the short term, however it will also require a change to the existing Development Approval. We could locate a demountable here and then move it later, but this would only occur if we have identified a suitable permanent location to move to in the near term, a maximum of 1-2 years. Yvonne has also advised that this is not the ideal situation for the students, which we also need to take into consideration, as the High School students need to experience separation from Primary School.
In terms of other properties, we explored far and wide from Council, to property developers, local land holders, and even local community organisations, where we have sought approval to commence in a local Scout Hall. Property search. As mentioned, the property search has been ongoing since June 2018, when we first considered a 10 acres property in Morayfield which had an asking price of $6M. Over this time, Board member Shanan Brandis primarily, and Yvonne, have worked with Real Estate Agents, Developers, Business Owners, local land holders and anyone else who would listen to their requests.
Other properties considered have been:
– A number of properties in the local area, mostly close to Gympie Road, up to Elimbah. These have mainly been farms with limited existing buildings.
– The most recent has been discussion about leasing a farm between here and Elimbah, which didn’t go ahead as the land owner changed their mind.
– A property close to Elimbah was considered, but we were advised by council that we would not get approval to have a school on the site due to flooding concerns.
– We have considered and discussed purchasing the property next door, but the owner is not ready to sell the whole property at this point.
– We looked to purchase the property over the road but were advised that we would not get approval due to traffic considerations.
– We came close to purchasing a property on Mahogany Drive, but found out that the current legislative requirements meant we would have to gut and rebuild the existing buildings to meet regulations, which was not financially viable.
– We have looked at properties at the Western edge adjoining our land, but they also had issues with existing buildings or issues with flooding.
– Over the years the team have discussed options for a “Farm” like development at the end of King Street, which didn’t receive council approval, a development at the top of Pumicestone Road, which may proceed but we have not had further discussions with the developer, the Caboolture West development and even the development at the Petrie Mill. For various reasons, a number of these projects have not gone ahead, or have experienced delays with their progress. Another recent opportunity has been discussions with a local property owner the potential to lease some of their property as the permanent site for the school, but we are still in the early days of this considerations. Our most recent exploration has been discussions with a local Church to hire an existing building from them that would be perfect to get us started for a few years, while we finalise a more permanent location.
Hopefully you can see from this list of property considerations that the team have not been sitting idly waiting for something to happen. As you would imagine, investigating each of these options take time out of already busy schedules.
Current options for a CMS High School
In terms of the options we are currently considering, there is:
– A local green field site. We are currently discussing a lease of a local farm site that is within a few kms of the school, however this is early days, but this has the most potential to be a permanent site. The site has been discussed with Council and they are receptive to the school being there. We hope to know in the next few months if we can secure this site. However, being a green field site, there are additional costs associated with having to gain approvals, establishing all utilities, and infrastructure.
– Caboolture West. We have been talking to a representative for the developer at Caboolture West for a few years and they have experienced delays in the approval of the development. They are also considering other schools but they like the idea of having a Montessori school there. The project is still in their early stages for this particular offering, which means there is limited agreement on what is being offered, and how much it will cost, but this opportunity is likely to be limited in size and is likely to be a number of years away from completion.
– Petrie Mill. This is another opportunity that has been explored, but this project is also experiencing delays. This site offers an exciting opportunity to potentially share facilities with the University in the future. Again, the project is in their early stages and there is limited understanding of what is being offered, and how much it will cost. More recently there have been management changes with the Mill, that are also creating delays.
– Local short-term lease at a Church. We have recently commenced discussions about leasing buildings to commence the school in the short term. This could be the best option to commence early with limited upfront cost and improve our financial position to fund the greenfield site.
Apologies for the long-winded story, but we feel it is important to provide the full context of the work that has been conducted to date to understand where the project is up to now. There are many moving parts to this decision, and also changing or evolving factors that influence the final decision.
At this point in time, we are not in a financial position to commence a High School in 2025, with our number one priority being the ongoing financial viability of the Primary School. As a result, we need more time to establish the finances needed to fund the development of the High School, this additional time will allow us to confirm the most suitable location to start the school, while ensuring the continued viability of the Primary School.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Shanan, Yvonne and Stephen for their efforts to date and the ongoing support they provide.
I would also like to thank you for your ongoing support of the Caboolture Montessori School.
Moreton Bay Montessori Association Inc.