Concerns about new Pinelands school

The proposed development of a new school for Pinelands has caused some concerns with a handful of residents claiming the school might not even be needed and will cause plenty of problems once it’s up and running.

Problems raised by residents include traffic concerns, parking, noise, limited access to a public park, being a burden on existing infrastructure and questions were raised as to whether or not the land in question was suitable to accommodate a school.

Grace Primary School, which was launched in January 2014, is a Western Cape Education Department (WCED) registered independent school, as well as a registered non-profit organisation (NPO) and public benefit organisation (PBO), which purchased a piece of land in Protea Close from Garden Cities for around R410 000 after submitting a formal application for a “family scale school”.

The school currently operates from the Pinelands Congregational Church.

Chris de Witt, the chairman of the school board, said they had been doing their research on 10 different sites in and on the border of Pinelands, even eyeing the old Howard Bowling Club, but was disappointed to find out it had already been allocated to the Western Province Sports Administration.

“Given that the school was enjoying the support of the community and growing each year, our classes were getting fuller despite operating out of temporary accommodation, our current Grade 1 class had a waiting list – we pursued Erf 2805 (owned privately by Garden Cities) because it was zoned for education and it is suitable for a ‘family scale’ primary school such as ours,” Mr De Witt said.

This property, however, appealed to the school in that it would reinforce a small school environment which is the atmosphere they were striving for in their education philosophy.

Mr De Witt is aware of a “handful of neighbours” that have opposed the development of a school in the area.

“Many of the neighbours have expressed concern, but have been pleasant and reasonable to dialogue with. All the relevant council authorities have been kept informed and have been supportive of the establishment of the school. The main objections have been from the immediate neighbours who would prefer not to have a school next to them,” Mr De Witt said.

Grace Primary offers small classes, seven in total, with a maximum of 18 pupils per class, for fees which are lower-than-average for Cape Town independent schools.

“We are a registered NPO and PBO – no founders, board members and directors benefit financially from the school. We all volunteer large amounts of time free of charge,” Mr De Witt said. “This is a money-losing operation for us, instead of a money-making operation.”

The current phase of development which will be in place by December 2016 provides for administration space plus five of the ultimate seven classrooms.

These plans were passed through all the appropriate council channels, including a review of traffic implications. Being in line with the rights attached to the zoning of the erf, the plans were approved.

However, a concerned resident, Dr Leah Reid, said traffic is already a nightmare in Pinelands at peak times, with about 531 complaints lodged on the Facebook pages daily.

“The majority of the children at Grace Primary aren’t from Pinelands, thus the traffic burden in and out of the area, which is increased. The school plans to build in phases over five years. This will have a significant impact with noise, dust, traffic and security risks,” she said.

Dr Reid added that “by the school’s own admission”, they (Grace Primary) do not exist to address a school shortage in Pinelands, but rather to provide an alternative type of education which the founders feel is better than what is currently available in Pinelands.

“So if you live in Pinelands, and your child wasn’t placed at one of the existing primary schools, Grace is only an option if you can afford the more expensive fees and trust an untested system of education,” she said.

“There is no need for this school to exist specifically in Pinelands, it is only at the insistence of the founders that the school be in this area, and that is why they have not searched for land in other suburbs.”

Dr Reid insists that the immediately affected residents strongly object to the building of a new school as they felt the land was simply too small for what the school plans to do.

“If Grace was a school with 50-60 kids, and could thus remain entirely on their own land, there would be no objection,” she said.

Another frustrated resident is Glynn Clarke, who expressed his concern over the fact that only 30% of the pupils will be coming from the area.

He confirmed that residents had lodged complaints with sub-council as well as the owners at the time, Garden Cities, but there was very little the City of Cape Town could do, as they stated the land was zoned for education.

“A school of this size is going to have a major impact on a small close like this,” Mr Clarke said.

He furiously asked: “How many more times will regulation have to be changed and bent to accommodate this school?”

Millicent Merton, from the WCED’s communications directorate, said Grace Primary is an already established independent school and submitted plans to expand their premises.

She further confirmed that the WCED only received one complaint from the community, which centred around the erf size not being big enough to accommodate the additional pupils.

Ms Merton confirmed that the relevant approvals had already been granted, saying: “We believe that the complainant has lodged an objection in this regard to the City.”

However, the WCED maintains there is a need for accommodation in Pinelands, as over the last few years, there has been growth in young families in the area which has ultimately put pressure on the existing schools. The capacity of these existing schools cannot accommodate this demand.

“Any access to additional schooling will be welcomed, should they meet all the necessary requirements in terms of registration for independent schools. One of those requirements is the relevant buildings and grounds approval from the municipality,” Ms Merton added.

A study carried out by the WCED in response to residents questioning the size and scale of the school showed there are three primary schools in Pinelands, all around 20 000 square metres and have about 400 pupils. This meant that there was an average of 50 square metres per pupil. Grace Primary will have an area of 2 400 square metres and that would mean about 50 pupils for the area.

In an email sent to Mr Clarke, dated Wednesday May 18, a member of the WCED, said: “The school complies to the applicable regulations as it conforms with standards appropriate to the context in which the school will operate. The average teaching space capacity per classroom of between 2.6 square metres to 3.3 square metres will be available in the new school, although the required minimum is only 1.2 square metres to 1.5 square metres.”

Mr De Witt confirmed that the school had signed a deed of sale with Garden Cities in November 2015, a full seven months after they called a meeting with neighbours to let them know they were pursuing the purchase of the land. “The purchase of Erf 2805 was a private transaction with Garden Cities hence no tender or advertisement was required. We did, however, have to submit an extensive application to purchase. Garden Cities reviewed our application to ensure that our intended use was in line with their mandate to ensure the development of Pinelands for the sake of the community and that our proposal, including a concept plan, for a primary school on that site was well-conceived and viable. They were satisfied on both scores,” Mr De Witt said.

Grace Primary was well aware of the “good existing schools” in the Pinelands community, but Mr De Witt said many parents felt that there are some recognised drawbacks to the government curriculum, primarily the heavy assessment load on the teachers and the pupils.

“Our curriculum meets and exceeds CAPS requirements as do other local schools. However, we also invest in a broad, stimulating and literature rich curriculum sourcing the best materials from around the world and locally,” he said. “There is a desperate need for contributions to the education crisis in our country and it is our goal that we develop a school that is educationally excellent and operates within the legal framework.”