PRESS: Catholic Church to build two new high schools, expand two others, in Hunter

THE Catholic Church has announced the biggest expansion of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle school system in more than 100 years.

The diocese will build two new high schools and extend two existing Hunter secondary colleges to year 12 in a $90million plan.

The two new year seven to year 12 schools, to be built at Chisholm, near Thornton, and Medowie and open in 2018 and 2020 respectively, will be the first Catholic high schools built in the Hunter in 36 years, director of Catholic Schools Ray Collins said.

Years 11 and 12 will also be offered at St Joseph’s High School, Lochinvar and St Mary’s High School, Gateshead from 2018.

They are currently both year 7 to year 10 schools.

Mr Collins said the diocese was responding to population growth in its demographic and pressure on enrolments.

Bishop Bill Wright said the investment was a major leap forward for the diocese.

‘‘It’s great that people are looking for Catholic education and I’m delighted we are in a position to respond willingly and comprehensively,’’ Bishop Wright said.

‘‘We went through some lean years after the global financial crises and it’s a long time since we have significantly expanded the school system,’’ he said.

The two new schools, which are still in the planning stage,  will cost $40million each to build and rely, at least in part, on state and federal government support.

The bishop said the diocese would ‘‘gratefully accept any government funding it could get’’ and fund the remaining cost of the projects.

He said land had been acquired for both new schools.

According to diocese figures, 18,400 students are  enrolled in 45 Catholic primary and 11 Catholic secondary schools in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese.

When the new schools are running at capacity in 10 years’ time, that figure is  set to jump to 21,000.

The Chisholm and Medowie schools will start with year seven students only and expand year on year until the inaugural students reach year 12.

Mr Collins said the Medowie school would make life easier for families living around  the Nelson Bay and Port Stephens area  who  have to travel to Newcastle to attend Catholic secondary schools.

‘‘It takes students out of their community … by the time they get home things like soccer training have already started,’’ Mr Collins said.

The need for a public high school at Medowie was first flagged in 1983, according to Labor member for Port Stephens Kate Washington.

At the last election, NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley promised to build a $40million secondary school if Labor was elected.

Bishop Wright said the new Catholic school would ease some of the pressure for local secondary education.

‘‘If they want a high school out there, we’ll give them one,’’ he said. ‘‘I think they will probably still want a public high school out there in due course.’’

The diocese expected the Medowie school would ease the pressure on  Newcastle’s Catholic high schools, where enrolments are in high demand.

St Mary’s principal Larry Keating said the addition of years 11 and 12 at Gateshead was the realisation of a ‘‘much longed for” continuum of Catholic education for families in east Lake Macquarie.

‘‘It also honours the legacy of the Sisters of St Joseph and all who laboured tirelessly with them  to lay the foundations for the splendid Catholic school we have today,’’ Mr Keating said.


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