Headmaster’s Message – March 3, 2016

March 2, 2016

Headmaster’s Address at the Boarding Precinct Plan Launch – February 26

It is with great joy that I welcome everyone here tonight to witness what we hope will be the start of an historic project which will guarantee and secure the long-term future of boarding at St Patrick’s College. In offering this welcome, we acknowledge the traditional custodians of this great land. They are the Wathaurong people. We pay our respects to any elders past and present and acknowledge their care of the land over many thousands of years. May we walk on this land gently and respectfully.

Upon arriving at St Patrick’s College it didn’t take long for me to realise the crucial role boarding plays today in the life of the College.- In many ways it is the lifeblood of the school. It provides the heartbeat -“ the place in the school where the greatest of friendships and bonds are formed and where the traditions and cultures of St Patrick’s College manifest daily into the lives of fine young men. Personally speaking, my family, who live on site at St Patrick’s College, have thoroughly enjoyed being part of our vibrant boarding community.

The strength of the bonds built in a boarding existence at St Patrick’s College were never more evident than in 2000 when the College found reason to question its ongoing commitment to offering a boarding program. The passion that decision provoked was very evident to all. Past and current parents and students argued strongly and decisively that boarding is an integral part of the College and should continue for many years to come. Fortunately their arguments, their passion and their commitment prompted a change. The decision by then new Headmaster Dr Peter Casey to restore boarding in 2002 and ensure its future was met with great joy and was thanks, in no small part, to the great work of those who campaigned so hard to save boarding. Tonight I wish to publicly acknowledge and thank those who fought so hard to save one of the truly great traditions at St Patrick’s College.

However, time does not stand still -“ particularly for aging buildings and decades-old facilities. While the College over the past 15 years has worked incredibly hard to build boarding numbers back up to a sizeable level, the boarding infrastructure has struggled to keep pace.

In recent years our boarding community, while strong, has been disparate and remote. Our boys have lived in four separate houses -“ McCann, Nangle, Kenny and Phyland-Farley -“ coming together as one community for dinner before then heading their separate ways to all corners of the College and even off-site. This has been far from ideal.

Compounding the problem was the fact that many aspects of our houses are in dire need of refurbishment and repair. The buildings are old and dated. Apart from Kenny House, they were not originally built for the purposes of boarding and certainly do not cater for the needs of teenage boys in today’s modern, connected society. In short, while we believe we were offering an outstanding boarding program, full of opportunities and joy, our buildings were holding us back and restricting us from being best-practice. This needs to change.

Boarding is a major investment for families. So when families are making the decision to spend many thousands of dollars investing in their child’s future, they want to do so in the knowledge they are getting the best value for their dollar. They want comfort and security. They want their sons to have space and privacy and room to move. They want modern facilities. They want outdoor and indoor recreational areas. They want sun and shade. They want modern kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and furnishings. They want their boys to find a new home away from home where they can socialise, study, learn and grow into great men.

With that in mind, the challenge presented itself. How can we, as a Catholic school in the Edmund Rice tradition, continue to offer the broadest and most complete academic and co-curricular experience to boys from across Ballarat, across Victoria and indeed across Australia. It is here I must slightly digress and acknowledge another great tradition for St Patrick’s College which has emerged through the provision of boarding. Our Indigenous Education Program which has continued to thrive over the past decade is, I believe, second to none. We have been honoured, privileged and proud to provide a home to so many Indigenous students from some of Australia’s most remote locations over the years. Last year we had 11 Indigenous students successfully complete Year 12, in addition to 10 the year before -“ this is an exemplary achievement, one of which we can all be enormously proud and one which would not be possible without the existence of boarding. This success is now an intrinsic part of the tapestry which makes up St Patrick’s College and is something we must cherish and further invest in.

So, to the future and our vision. Later this evening our Director of Boarding Mike Silcock will more specifically outline the bricks and mortar side of things and unveil some of our plans. For now, I will announce that St Patrick’s College is embarking upon a major project to ensure the long-term future of boarding in first-class, custom-built facilities for generations to come.

We will bring all our boarders together in one designated precinct in the north-west corner of the College where they will have access to brand new, ultra-modern, spacious, comfortable and, most importantly in Ballarat, warm facilities. They will live as one community, not as three or four separate houses. They will learn, dine, study, play, relax and grow together. They will have wonderful new amenities, both indoor and outside and will form their own vibrant community once again.

The new precinct will enable us to nearly triple our current boarding student population. Importantly, it is not just our boarding students who will benefit greatly. Our staff will have access to refurbished facilities. Our boarding staff will be able to live as families and not merely as housemasters. They will be able to entertain, to enjoy their own yards and to welcome friends and families into their homes. It is our belief that happier staff will create an even happier environment for our boys.

Much work has been done already in preparation for this announcement. The College has spent much time in consultation with various stakeholders including staff, students, council and neighbours. We thank them all for their input thus far and also thank our architects from Morton Dunn who have so expertly guided us to the present position.

But there is still much work to do. We hope in the coming weeks that full council building permits will be granted with a few to appointing a construction company to build and turn our ideas into reality. Our aim is to have this precinct completed in 2017 -“ ready to usher in an exciting new generation of boarding excellence.

Such grand aims do come at considerable cost for the College. This is a $4m project and we are hopeful that a percentage of that expenditure can be recouped through the generosity of our great community.

This, I believe is a once-in-a-generation moment for St Patrick’s College. We have a chance to build upon our boarding greatness in a dynamic and exciting manner. All aspects of our College will benefit enormously from this project -“ our academic levels will rise, our co-curricular endeavours will continue to improve, our Indigenous Education Program will strengthen and our community will continue to grow from the most solid of foundations.

I can think of no more exciting way for us a College to continue to raise fine boys to the status of great men and I hope you can join us and support this fantastic opportunity.

Mr John Crowley