School still an eyesore

The school is a short walk from Steurhof and Diep River train stations.

Two squirrels race through pine cones and weeds. If you listen carefully you can hear the weeds growing. Central Primary school should be noisy with squeals and chatter of children but instead there is only a deathly silence that is part and parcel of a neglected building.

South Peninsula High School (SPHS) may be getting new classrooms but they are still trying to get the use of this Diep River school.

The school is behind the Meltz building in Diep River and has been vacant for many years.

Acting principal of SPHS, Zeid Baker, recently told the Bulletin that they were still trying to get the school but the longer they waited the more derelict and uninhabitable the building became.

Showing a message on his cellphone, he says residents surrounding the school contact him to ask what progress has been made as they are concerned that vagrants could move into the building.

Mr Baker says there appears to be complications around negotiating a lease between the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), the national Department of Basic Education and the Department of Public Works.

In the meantime Mr Baker would like to get stuck in, tidying up the property – cutting grass (actually weeds), trimming trees, securing the periphery and fixing the inside, room by room.

They also plan to use it to create a small museum to commemorate those who were removed during the Group Areas Act.

“Our intention is to fix it up. We have organisations who are willing to help,” he said. They would like to use the property for maths and physics classrooms as well as a creative arts centre. Part of it would be used as a dormitory for international visitors and pupils in their global initiative – the school has strong ties with other international schools such as those in the Shetlands, Germany and Japan.

Over the years there has always been a historical link between SPHS and Central Primary School. On its website, SPHS say that up until 1953 there was only the main building in the grounds of their Kendal Road property. For practical classes students had to walk to the primary school in Diep River (Diep River Central) to receive education. This was organised efficiently and with minimum waste of time.

Just over a year ago SPHS pupils marched along Old Kendal Road singing and chanting (“SP says they will cut locks to occupy building”, Bulletin June 4, 2015). They made it clear that they wanted to occupy and rehabilitate the abandoned primary school.

They applied to use the primary school in 2005 but did not have any response. Initially SPHS planned to use the abandoned school for extra classrooms stating it was overcrowded.

Getting nowhere with the formal application to acquire the property, they held their first march in 2012.

The school was opened in the 1950s but was closed under the Group Areas Act and was used by the army for many years.

Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for MEC for Education, Debbie Schäfer, said the WCED and the provincial Department of Transport and Public Works (DTPW) are looking into the status of the application.

“The old Central Primary School buildings and facilities are vested with national DTPW and not provincial DTPW. The WCED, through the provincial DTPW, needs permission to use the old Central Primary School facilities. The old Central Primary School building is not earmarked for replacement as the building is not yet vested with province. Once vested, a user (probably South Peninsula High School) will have to be allocated to the property, before a decision will be made on replacing the building,” said Ms Shelver.

She added that South Peninsula High School does not have a shortage of accommodation. “It’s currently part of the school upgrade and additions programme. The learner to classroom ratio drops to 27 learners per class if all instruction is included,” said Ms Shelver. ”With a number of outside elements moving into the old school premises, national DTPW proposed a caretaker’s agreement that would allow the WCED use of the property. We are, however, still awaiting the outcome of this proposal,” said Ms Shelver.

Thami Mchunu, director of media and stakeholder relations for the national Department of Public Works, said they are currently in negotiations with Western Capeg overnment to hand over the building. When pushed for a date when this might take place, he said he did not know. When asked who the Bulletin could contact to find out, he said all requests would be referred to him.