Yass High celebrates: Out of the Ashes

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SCHOOLS: Yass High School’s Out of the Ashes campaign to rebuild parts of the school devastated by a fire in 2012 culminated with its official opening ceremony on Friday night.

It’s been years of hard work accompanied by an extraordinary fundraising drive supported by the whole community, and countless negotiations with the Department of Education.

But look at what the school offered now, said principal Sandra Hiscock.

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“The facilities are compatible and we can now compete with the Canberra facilities, there is no reason why students would go across the boarder,” Ms Hiscock said.

In the early hours of Saturday, November 24, fire ripped through the 1958 industrial arts section of the school, destroying areas used to teach woodworking, cooking and textiles.

Precious equipment, Year 12 artworks and wood projects, and student and staff personal effects were destroyed.

Even more distressing, the blaze destroyed the full-size commercial kitchen built in honour of former student Geordie Whitfield, who died in a car accident soon after finishing high school in 2002.

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Fire fighters were still mopping up embers at 11am, eight hours after the fire ripped through the 1950s building. PHOTO: Katharyn Brine

 

PHOTO: Katharyn Brine

PHOTO: Katharyn Brine

Students were able to continue classes after only a week’s disruption thanks to help from other schools, churches and the council offering to host classes at a number of their venues.

An additional six demountable buildings were installed on the grounds a month later and plans were spawned to not just rebuild the T-Block, but to take the school to the next level with state-of-the-art double storey structure complete with industry standard facilities in construction, metals, engineering and hospitality, as well as updated facilities for textiles, primary industries, performing arts and digital media.

The school was already over capacity, originally built for 280 students (it currently has 520 enrolled) and was forecast for significant, fast growth in the region.

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“Over these last few years we’ve had a rebuild and put in three trade training rooms; hospitality, construction and metals/engineering,” Ms Hiscock has previously told Scoop.

“As a result of that, we [replaced] four demountables from down the back because we’ve got the classrooms upstairs now.”

The rebuild struck a hurdle when the Education department announced it was prepared to only fund the insurance replacement one-storey building in April 2013.

However, community spirit came to the fore and the Rotary Club of Yass organised and funded construction of a five-bay shed to be used for storage and workshop areas for auto, metals, timber and agriculture, in the interim.

An additional $38,000 was raised by the Yass district community to accompany the state government’s $10,000 grant to get the master plan rolling and to purchase interactive whiteboards, furniture, and a covered walkway linking the old buildings to the new, “for weather and shelter so the kids could go between blocks”.

Principal Sandra Hiscock gave an emotional, heartfelt address at the official opening.

Principal Sandra Hiscock gave an emotional, heartfelt address at the official opening.

With much lobbying, stage one of the project is now complete and all fingers are crossed in the hopes stage two (building a hall) and stage three (an additional administration area) might eventually come to fruition, says Ms Hiscock.

“Other speakers will provide some detail about the events and challenges that culminate in today’s ceremony: I’d just like to briefly focus on how, over three stages, school and community members have risen to the occasion, met various challenges and have ultimately been strengthened by the experience so that the school’s main function – teaching and learning – could continue effectively and eventually be enriched by new facilities,” she told the crowd of about 200 visitors at Friday’s opening.

P&C member Gillian Bucknell lobbied hard for government funding.

P&C member Gillian Bucknell lobbied hard for government funding.

“After the despair of loss and disruption it was remarkable how well we rallied and rose to the occasion with the determination and resilience of staff and students, especially those who had lost resources and projects, enabling us to get back to work, firstly in makeshift classrooms around the town and then in temporary classrooms for the ensuing two years.

“In this first phase we also benefited from the kind support of other schools, the Baptist Church and the council, and then the prompt placement of temporary demountables and the amazingly generous input of Nick Mironov and his team, Rotary and local tradies. That resulted in the five-bay shed we continue to use.”

She said phase two was lobbying, planning and eventually building new facilities that distinctly improved on those lost and also went some way towards meeting the town and the school’s growing needs.

“This phase was probably much more difficult than we had anticipated: it created the steepest learning curve yet also brought out the best in those involved.

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“We are incredibly indebted to our chief lobbyists, Gillian Bucknell, and Jasmin Jones, backed by Andrew Southwell, Michael Pilbrow and the P&C; to local member at the time, Katrina Hodgkinson and her staff; to our own teaching and SASS staff including Paul Wilkinson our GA who are the quiet achievers and perfectionists getting the job done; to Rod Saville for his tireless focus on better outcomes and support for the technology staff.

“And of course there was the Out of the Ashes fundraiser that brought the community fully behind the project and has contributed so much to equipment replacement.

Rod Saville.

Rod Saville.

“Looking back, it was amazing how clear-sighted, skilful and determined all these people were in ensuring that we ended up with something truly worthwhile rather than second rate.”

Phase three, occupying and utilising the new facilities, was no less challenging.

“Major change always is. I really appreciated how positive and purposeful staff were in relocating to the twenty-seat staffroom and in adapting to both the very different open plan spaces upstairs and brand new equipment and facilities downstairs.

“It is inspiring to witness student learning being enriched and enhanced by such a great new building and to ponder how well people have risen to the challenges and have been strengthened by the experience.”

School captains Allyssa Wright and Daniel Kemp talked about the journey to develop a Master Plan to develop permanent spaces to replace demountables, integrating the old and new schools, expanding the hall, and developing the entrance of the school to be more welcoming and functional.

School captains for 2016 Allyssa Wright and Daniel Kemp talked about the journey to recovery.

School captains for 2016 Allyssa Wright and Daniel Kemp talked about the journey to recovery.

“The devastation of the fire tested the resilience of the staff and students but the supportive community rallied around the school to plan for the future,” they said.

“Planning for replacement buildings had to take a back seat while demountable workshops and kitchens were set up in the park to keep the technology and applied studies faculty producing the skilled young workers of the future for the Yass Valley and beyond.

“With some spirited advocacy from our community, we were successful in engaging architects to create a Master Plan for Yass High School to upgrade from the rows of demountables and crowded corridors as our school numbers continued to increase.”

Key lobbyists and parents Gillian Bucknell, Jasmin Jones and Andrew Southwell also spoke at the opening, and Geordie’s mother Julie Perrin re-dedicated the new kitchen facility to her son.

Cr Jones paid tribute to Ms Hiscock’s leadership through the rebuild.

“Sandra Hiscock was a newly appointed Principal to Yass High back in 2012. Wow did she hit the ground running!

“With a third of her school up in flames, this newcomer showed us what she was made of and steered this school community through every storm after that; all the while improving the academic and student well being along the way.

“Along with pragmatic decisions on cupboards, toilets, stairwells and fire doors, a bigger vision of Principal Hiscock’s emerged; a chance to change the way students could learn, an opportunity to build a state-of-the-art open plan learning space.

“…more classrooms, a staffroom, a refitted art room; [they] were all haggled for along the way.”

The official ribbon was cut by a collective of dignatories including NSW Education Department’s Carolynne Merchant and Yass Valley mayor Rowena Abbey as well as the P&C’s Sharon Kemp, Rod Saville, Andrew Southwell, Mrs Perrin and Jasmin Jones.

“It was a symbol of a community opening rather than any one person opening it,” Ms Hiscock said.

“There were lots of displays, shearing, music, archives, new programs, the hospitality crew made supper and used new facilities.”

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RFS superintendent Peter Dyce (right) revisited the site for the official opening.

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Part of the celebration included shearing displays.

Part of the celebration included shearing displays.

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Katharyn Brine

Editor / Publisher

2 Comments

  1. Sandra Hiscock

    March 1, 2016 at 6:36 am

    Congratulations and thank you for your ongoing support, Scoop Yass Valley, from the staff and students of Yass High School.

  2. Louise Pinson

    March 3, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    This is an excellent and informative article. I was unable to attend the opening but feel like I was there after reading this and seeing the photos. Thanks for building community through telling our stories.

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