Covenant Christian School in Gordon is a small, non-government school thatkeeps its fees among the most affordable of any private school in the ACT.
So the fact it has been able to squirrel away some of its funding to build a light and bright new pre-school worth nearly $1.5 million is still something of a miracle to its principal Martin Keast.
He said the decision to offer early learning to preschool students had long been a goal of the school and had been made possible by an ACT government grant of $500,000 as part of its non-government preschool initiative. The preschool building has also allowed the school to offer before and after-school care and vacation programs.
The project has been funded through using some small reserves saved over the years and taking out a bank loan and the first 12 preschool students arrived last week.
With just 135 students across the entire school, Covenant charges up to $6885 for its most senior students in Year 10.
Mr Keast said balancing fees and school income while trying to keep a Christian education as an option for any family who wanted to access it was a constant juggling act.
The secondary school fee rise of 6.4 per cent this year – which absorbs an increased camp cost – was the highest of all non-government schools, although Covenant charged among the lowest overall fees.
Mr Keast said the school also accommodated lower contributions from families suffering financial hardship.
Like many non-government principals Mr Keast said staff wages took the lion's share of the budget and it was vital the school paid competitive wages in order to maintain a skilled staff.
"Our teachers and our staff always give over and above what we pay them but still we need to ensure we keep salary costs in the same ballpark compared with other Christian schools."
As he sought to increase wages in line with other private schools, Mr Keast said the risk was the school grounds could start to look a bit tatty.
"There is always something we need to do and we never want to let the campus suffer but sometimes there is a limit to what we can spend."
He said the new preschool provided a lovely focal point for the school and would allow it to provide a new intake for kindergarten classes into the future, bolstering the school's capacity over time.
"We definitely do not offer a Rolls Royce style of education, but we are a family-oriented, caring community that seeks to help each child reach their full potential … and now we can offer that same kind of care to pre-schoolers."