Department of Education rejects Northern Support school safety hazard claims

The Department of Education has responded to claims that the Northern Support School’s refurbishment project is faulty and contains several safety hazards, saying the claims have been or are being addressed.

The Ravenswood school, designed to be a Centre of Excellence for students with a disability or special needs, is being refurbished and amalgamated at a cost of $7.9 million by the state government.

Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby founder Kristen Desmond has highlighted issues with toilet cubicle sizes, roof-mounted heaters that are not suitable for operation by people with a disability, hallways that are too small to allow wheelchairs to pass each other, and narrow concrete paths.

She said parents shared her concerns about the school’s safety and practicality for both students and teachers.

Department of Education deputy secretary Rob Williams issued a statement on Monday regarding the claims put forward that were supported by Labor’s education spokeswoman Michelle O’Byrne.

Mr Williams said following completion of works to the senior school, the assistant principal requested an independent assessment of the works.

A St Giles physiotherapist and occupational therapist recommended adjustments to the toilet height, but noted “these were the best disability toilets they had seen in a school setting”.

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On Sunday Ms Desmond said the Lobby had serious concerns about the privacy of unisex ambulant toilets in the school, which Mr Williams said had been addressed.

“As with any building project, the Department of Education makes decisions based on expert advice and stakeholder input,” he aid.

“Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the design is appropriate, adjustments have since been made to ensure the building meets National Building Code.”

Mr Williams said concerning the roof heaters that Ms Desmond said were easily accessible by students and not suitable for people with a sensory disability, the architect had confirmed the heaters met electrical regulations.

“Options will be considered should staff consider the existing heaters are not suitable from an operational perspective, noting that students – like any other school -- do not operate the heaters,” he said.

“The architects also advise that pathways are constructed to National Building Code and disabled standards with the handrails generally wider than required.”

Mr Williams said the architects and confirmed the building met all legislative requirements and disabled requirements, and that staff and the school association were happy with the building.

“The Department will continue to work with staff and stakeholders to address operational issues not identified in the design phase that require solutions above the Code requirements,” he said.

“As with all building projects that are incomplete the Department will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure the best outcomes for all students.”

Chairman of the Northern Support School Brent Colgrave said the campus was “impressive, modern, appropriate and inspiring”.

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