The waiting list for the Illawarra's autism-specific school has been slashed with the unveiling of a $4 million renovation at its Corrimal campus.
Operators of the Aspect South Coast School say the expansion, two years in the making, has increased capacity from 24 to 42 students.
The Wilford Street campus was previously little more than a small brick house with a converted garage used for administration. There were four classrooms - mainly demountable - and a shed.
A state-of-the-art multi-purpose hall stands where the shed once was, complete with a raked ceiling and technology allowing for a multitude of presentations and other uses.
There are upgraded playgrounds with an improved bike track, inground slide, trampoline and - arriving soon - a water misting system.
The library - once an assortment of books that had been "shoved into a little old classroom" - now boasts a huge catalogue and a fitout focused on calming tones and soft edges - rounded ceiling lines, low cylindrical stools, a pillow-lined nook and purpose-built acoustic panels on the ceiling to keep harsh noises at bay.
The renovation was informed by the Aspect Practice Think Tank - a group of people with autism enlisted by Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) as paid consultants, said school principal, Rowena Perritt.
"Aspect now have a design brief that goes across all of our schools," Ms Perritt said. "They [the think tank] have really gone into every part to make sure we've incorporated all the calm spaces, calm colours, environment supports within all of it."
The Corrimal campus is considered a transitionary service, with the majority of students progressing from there to a mainstream school, a support unit within a mainstream school, one of Aspect South Coast School's satellite campuses or a school with a specific purpose, such as Para Meadows.
Classrooms at Corrimal have increased from four to seven. With a new K-2 Aspect junior campus also recently opened at UOW, and a senior campus to open at UOW in the new year, for years 7-10, Aspect coordinator Raleigh Kerr said the school had ballooned by about six classes in total.
"We've always had a very, very big waiting list - we've had 50 or 60 students waiting at some stage and we've had to say "sorry" to parents," she said.
"But we don't have much of a [waiting list] at the moment - we've probably only got 10-15."
The expansion was funded with state and federal government funds, with money raised in the community used for resources.
The school is funded to provide two staff for every six students, and has therapists on staff, including a psychologist, behaviour support, speech therapist and an OT.
Ms Kerr said it was these supports, and the training extended to all staff - including casuals - that set it apart from other schools.
"We've taken transition data over many years and students that move on from us after having that intensive [assistance] in social skills - all that type of thing - earlier, have had more success in their next setting," she said.
"We look at retention rates, we look at their success in academics, we look at success in social skills."
The renovations posed some challenges for the school's staff and students, with some parts of the campus fenced off for long periods. The playground, recently flung open, has been well received by students.
"Once we opened that fence and let them out - it was like Christmas," Ms Kerr said.
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