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As Brisbane looks ahead to the Olympics, the survival of a heritage-listed school hangs in the balance

As Brisbane looks ahead to the Olympics, the survival of a heritage-listed school hangs in the balance

5 April, 2022

Nestled in the shadows of the Gabba, East Brisbane state school is at risk of being swallowed up by development plans for the 2032 Games

Brisbane’s famous Gabba stadium has been hosting cricket matches for 127 years. And for all but four of them, East Brisbane state school (EBSS) has been sitting alongside it.

The heritage-listed school has had to become accustomed over the years to the lengthening shadows cast by the stadium’s growing stands and light towers. But there are fears the 2032 Olympics may finally wrench the school from its long-held location.

“We had kids crying at the school when the Olympics was announced,” says Daniel Angus, who has two children at EBSS, and whose wife, Kath, is a former Greens lord mayoral candidate.

“We cannot get excited about the Olympics when we feel that a bunch of other people are coming in ripping up our community for the sake of a two-week party.”

This week, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, joined Queensland’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and Brisbane’s lord mayor, Adrian Schrinner, on the hallowed Gabba turf to announce a new $1.8bn funding deal for south-east Queensland.

The headline project was a $450m investment in a new metro station at Woolloongabba that will connect with the city’s Cross River Rail.

Still to be negotiated is a funding deal for the state government’s $1bn proposal to demolish and rebuild the Gabba from the ground up.

The Gabba will receive a “major upgrade” to accommodate a minimum 50,000 spectators, and athletics track, according to the 2032 taskforce’s final submission to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Before the Olympics were announced, EBSS was busy preparing for growth, requesting an increased footprint to cope with a growing number of enrolments each year.

Now the community is fighting for the retention of the school, which currently has 283 students enrolled.

Nicola Middleton, who sits on the school’s P&C, says the government has been opaque in communicating its plans for EBSS, causing the local community a great deal of anxiety.

“The development of the Gabba is going to provide an environment that will make it very difficult for the school to continue in that location,” Middleton says.

“What will happen to the school? Is it going to be moved temporarily or permanently? Are we going to remain and endure through the demolition and construction?

“None of those questions that we’ve raised to the government have been answered.”

A spokesperson for Palaszczuk told Guardian Australia the redevelopment of the Gabba is “expected to impact East Brisbane state school”.

The spokesperson says the Games “are still 10 years away” and the organising committee will “consult with locals regarding planning and operational activities and ensure impacts are minimised”.

But the local South Brisbane MP, the Greens’ Amy MacMahon, said the government had given “no indication … that it’s serious about protecting the school”.

“The government needs to be upfront about their plans for the school, and work with the school to help enhance and expand the campus, as well as secure nearby land for the period of demolition and reconstruction of the Gabba,” MacMahon said.

“Using an existing stadium, like the QSAC at Mt Gravatt, or the Metricon stadium at the Gold Coast, might be a better outcome.”

The reconstruction of the Gabba is not the only government proposal to be the subject of local concern ahead of the 2032 Games.

Less than a kilometer down the road, in Kangaroo Point, the government has proposed converting Raymond Park into a warm-up track for athletes.

Although the government insists there will no resumption of land, and the impact on any existing facilities will be temporary, locals aren’t convinced.

“The track literally won’t fit without getting rid of the dog park, the 100-year-old fig and palm trees, the barbecue areas and playgrounds, the soccer club and the community gardens,” nearby resident Melissa Occhipinti says.

“And there is no way a full-sized athletics track required by the IOC can sit into the space without the resumption of houses.”

A spokesperson for the premier said in consultation with the council, Raymond Park has been identified as the preferred location for temporary warm-up facilities “based on its scale and proximity to the Gabba”.

“The proposed temporary warm-up facilities at Raymond Park would be removed immediately following the Games and the park will be restored back to the community,” the spokesperson said.

But Occhipinti says the Kangaroo Point community believes the government is robbing them of a vital green space that’s crucial for residents’ mental health and wellbeing.

“An Olympic-grade athletics track is not something that you put up and down within a three-month period. It’s a big construction.

“I think the loser of the Olympics is going to be the environment, quite frankly.”