Community groups have lost a bid to secure heritage listing at the old Flynn Primary School, in a decision they fear will set a precedent for similar legal stoushes.
But the activists may have another go at trying to persuade the ACT Heritage Council the architecturally significant buildings are worth listing.
The case hinged on the definition of the phrase ''the community'' in the context of the territory's heritage legislation.
And a judge has ruled ''the community'', in this case, meant the ACT rather than smaller groups which might exist inside - or outside - the territory's borders.
Justice John Burns refused yesterday the John Flynn Community Group and the Flynn Primary Parents and Citizens Association leave to appeal an earlier decision.
The John Flynn Community Group's Roger Nicoll said the ruling was unlikely to have a significant impact on the site.
There is no threat of demolition hanging over the old school buildings, part of which is being used to house a childcare centre.
''But we think it could set quite a devastating precedent for other communities where they seek heritage listing on the basis of community value,'' Mr Nicoll said.
The battle over the site's future and cultural significance has raged for years.
The old school, designed by respected architect Enrico Taglietti, was opened in the mid-1970s but closed during the government's contentious school closures program in 2006.
Community advocates have also cited links between the school and John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
In February last year the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal upheld the council's 2010 decision not to grant the site heritage listing.
The community groups had sought leave to appeal the decision in the ACT Supreme Court.
To win the right to appeal, their lawyers needed to satisfy Justice Burns they had an arguable case that the tribunal made an error of law affecting the outcome of proceedings. Through their barrister, Robert Clynes, the groups told the court the site had been included on the ACT branch of the Australian Institute of Architects register of significant 20th century architecture.
But Justice Burns noted that recognition came a month after the tribunal made its decision, and he could only consider errors of law.
The judge said any fresh evidence could, however, be relied on in another application before the Heritage Council.
The Heritage Act states a site has ''heritage significance'' if ''the community'' highly valued it for religious, cultural, spiritual, religious, educational, social or aesthetic reasons. Lawyers for the community groups had argued the phrase ''the community'' could include the people of Flynn.
''Indeed, they go so far as to submit it may also expand to encompass those outside the territory,'' the judge said.
The ACT Government Solicitor's office, acting for the Heritage Council, rejected the argument, and the judge noted the act referred to ''the community'', rather than ''a community''.
''As the Heritage Act is an ACT enactment it would seem to follow that the legislature intended that single, identifiable entity to be the ACT community,'' the judge wrote.
Justice Burns said the community groups' interpretation would, if accepted, render the territory's heritage laws unworkable in future disputes.
''As the [ACT Heritage Council] points out, such an interpretation would lead to almost all public places being 'valued' by one community or another,'' he wrote.