Illawarra MPs are in talks with the state government to allow Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) to use the near-empty Dapto TAFE campus.
After months of campaigning to keep TAFE’s presence in the suburb, Shellharbour MP Anna Watson has conceded Dapto campus’ days as a vocational education provider are over.
Now, Ms Watson has moved to ensure the site remains a publicly-owned education precinct by backing a push for Aspect to use part of the facility.
The not-for-profit organisation’s Corrimal-based South Coast School, which provides education to children with autism, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
In a briefing paper, seen by the Mercury, Aspect said the school’s enrolments had grown steadily to 132 in 2016, a 150 per cent increase since 2007. Twenty-five students are on a waiting list.
Five more classrooms are needed to cater for the increased number of students, the organisation said.
Five classes are currently double classes in order to meet the demand, a situation Aspect said was “not ideal”.
“The school needs a southern base site similar to its Corrimal site to provide administration and support for the families south of Wollongong,” the Aspect document said.
Ms Watson said the re-use proposal was a “great opportunity” for the campus, which has resembled a ghost town for almost a year.
“I’m disappointed the government has gutted Dapto TAFE and my position remains that it should be a TAFE,” she said.
“That’s clearly not going to happen, but what I don’t want to see happen is for greedy developers to get their hands on this piece of land.”
Ms Watson has received in-principle support for the Aspect proposal from parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward and NSW skills minister John Barilaro.
Mr Ward has written to the minister and suggested Aspect’s use of Dapto TAFE as an option.
“I want to see the maximum use and potential of all government assets and that includes this site. I look forward to the minister’s response,” he said.
“It’s very heartening that Anna Watson has now shifted her position on Dapto TAFE to looking for a re-use.”
On Friday, remaining non-TAFE administrative staff at Dapto relocate to other Department of Education sites. Some TAFE staff remain.