Imagine a high school in an office block on St Kilda Road.
Or one that shares the Victorian College for the Deaf’s magnificent bluestone buildings or is located within Essex Street or Horace Petty housing estates.
These are among the 20 to 30 sites the Education Department is considering for the long-awaited Prahran secondary school, with a final decision to be made by October.
Parliamentary secretary for education Clem Newton-Brown is hopeful the first intake of year 7 students will start at the school in 2016, depending on the site chosen.
There is currently no state school in the electorate of Prahran other than the select-entry Melbourne High, with some students forced to spend more than an hour on public transport to get to Hawthorn, Glen Eira, Elwood and Melbourne Girls’ secondary schools.
The Victorian government announced in April it would commit $20 million to build a new school.
Mr Newton-Brown says Prahran secondary would be smaller than a typical state school given the scarcity and expense of land and it would need to share community spaces such as sporting and arts venues.
“There are a lot of challenges - we won’t be able to buy a paddock with eight hectares - but these constraints give us the opportunity to do something ground-breaking,” Mr Newton-Brown says.
The school is forecast to be reasonably small - about 500 to 600 students - so as not to threaten the viability of other state secondary schools in the area.
However, at a public meeting on Thursday night parents raised concerns a school for 600 students would only “fill a tiny hole” given the feeder primary schools - Toorak, South Yarra and Stonnington - are already close to capacity.
They pointed to Albert Park College, which opened in 2011, and has proven so popular it has capped its enrolments and bought a year 9 campus at the former Circus Oz site in order to increase its students to 1200.
Victorian Education Department regional director John Allman said Prahran Secondary School would not initially be zoned although enrolments may be capped in the future.
“Children for whom Prahran Secondary School will be their closest school will have access as a priority from day one,” he said.
At the public meeting Mr Clem Newton-Brown canvassed the pros and cons of potential sites and invited the public to come up with alternative suggestions by August 8.
The Swinburne University site, for example, had a vacant building that could easily be turned into a school. However, parents had raised concerns about year 7 students sharing a campus with much older TAFE students.
Mr Newton-Brown said the “stars could line up” at the Victorian College for the Deaf, with the college keen for a secondary school to be co-located at the St Kilda Road site. However, the old buildings would require a restoration costing about $10 million.
Stonnington Primary principal Anne McPhee says her parents would absolutely welcome a local state secondary school. “I’ve been at this school for four years and this has been a talking point in my community during this time and I imagine long before.”
Ms McPhee said students in the area had to catch a minimum of two forms of public transport to get to a state secondary school.
She said her parents’ main criteria for a new school was ease of access.
Consultancy firm Ernst and Young will shortlist five sites and conduct detailed assessments. They will then recommend a site to the Education Department, with the final decision made by Education Minister Martin Dixon.
Go to www.facebook.com/theageeducation to comment on where you would like to see the new Prahran secondary school.