Vision for a class centre of learning


ALISON Heagney walks along the verandah of the Community College building on Bent Street, South Grafton, pointing out flaking paint and the sunlight that pours through holes in the guttering.

In some places the nails are sticking out; the wood is grey and old. But to Ms Heagney, manager of the college, this building is more than just the old Australian Rail Track Corporation building ? it is the foundation of a vision.

"We'll build this up and it will be something for the community for years, long after I've gone I would hope," Ms Heagney said.

"This is the perfect place for a community learning facility ? it's like it was built for us. And if we hadn't taken it up the whole building might have dilapidated further."

The building was constructed in the 1920s. For years it was the engineering office for the ARTC before it became vacant a few years ago.

Last year the college was offered a low-rent, five-year lease of the building in exchange for its renovation. With the rising costs of leasing class venues around town, coupled with a 5.8per cent drop in State Government funding, Ms Heagney jumped at the proposal.

"It's one spot so people can really feel like they have a base which is important when you're coming back to learning, sometimes for the first time in years," she said.

"It needs a good coat of paint, we need to replace the verandah and guttering and we'd like to upgrade the toilets. Those are the big ticket items, I guess. We're looking at about $100,000."

But on a tour around the premises, it becomes obvious those changes are not the only ones Ms Heagney pictures for the college.

From landscaping an outdoor classroom and educational gardens, to using donated furniture as part of a furniture restoration and business class, creativity and passion pour from Ms Heagney as she relates her ideas for new courses.

To help bring these plans to fruition, the college needs the Clarence Valley's support. Donations of paint or plants, discounted rates for guttering or plumbing work ? everything will help. The college is also a registered charity so cash donations are tax deductable.

Only a third of the college's courses are hobby courses, such as yoga or singing. Many others are accredited, but its major role is helping adults to learn new skills and regain their confidence to re-enter the workforce.

"Adult learning keeps people engaged in their community because they develop the communication and social skills to do it," Ms Heagney said. "When the rail workers became 'displaced workers', many came to us and we helped as they talked through their different options (and) that's what community learning is all about. We're here for the whole com- munity."

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