Mount Scopus heading to Caulfield?

Mount Scopus principal Rabbi James Kennard (left) with ALP candidate Josh Burns at Caulfield Hospital last Sunday. Photo: Simon Kosmer

MOUNT Scopus College’s dream of moving the entire school to Caulfield could be confirmed within 18 months.

It was revealed on the weekend that a four-way deal between the federal government, state government, Deakin University and Mount Scopus could see the school’s Burwood site sold and a new premises built on the current site of the Caulfield Hospital.

While it took many in the community by surprise, the four organisations have been working on the plan for the last four years.

The proposal to bring Victoria’s largest Jewish school to Caulfield would co-locate it with a redeveloped Caulfield Hospital at the hospital’s current site on Kooyong Road. It dovetails with expansion plans by Deakin University, which is located adjacent to Mount Scopus College’s Burwood site, where the school has been since its inception 70 years ago, with Deakin interested in acquiring the Mount Scopus property next door.

The entrance to Caulfield Hospital. Photo: Peter Haskin

Mount Scopus this week revealed its plans for the move – still some years away – in a letter to parents and supporters and in a joint announcement with ALP Macnamara candidate Josh Burns, who stated on Sunday that if elected, a federal Labor government would provide $5 million for a feasibility study into the co-location.

The plan is to bring Mount Scopus into the geographic core of the community, and examine how Alfred Health, owner of Caulfield Hospital, can redevelop the hospital into a state-of-the-art medical facility, Burns told a media conference at the hospital on Sunday.

Eliminating long bus rides for students from the inner southeast to Burwood – typically more than 25 minutes – would be one of the greatest advantages of the relocation.

Flanked by Mount Scopus College Foundation president David Gold and college president Amy Hershan, Burns, a former Scopus student, was joined by shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus, in announcing the feasibility study, which would closely coordinate with the Victorian government.

For Labor, whose retiring MP Michael Danby held Melbourne Ports (now Macnamara) by a slender 1.2 per cent in the 2016 election, the study announcement is seen as a vote winner, possibly offsetting the growing gulf between the Coalition and Labor on Israel-related policies.

“Caulfield Hospital is in desperate need of modernisation and it’s only Labor that will take the important steps towards delivering the first-class health services that locals deserve,” said Burns. 

“We’ll also do the hard work to enable the relocation of Mount Scopus to Caulfield, so students can spend more time in their local community and less time on buses travelling to school.”

Dreyfus described a Mount Scopus relocation as a “hot-button issue”, adding that a new home for the school “would make a vast difference to many families if it can be achieved”.

In a March 31 letter to Mount Scopus parents, posted on Facebook, college principal Rabbi James Kennard and Hershan stated that plans for the new site followed “lengthy and thorough consideration” for renewing the Gandel campus in Burwood.

But if a business case was successful, moving to Caulfield would be “a unique opportunity to create a hub and a community centre for the entire Melbourne Jewish community”, and allow existing Mount Scopus campuses in South Caulfield and East St Kilda to be used far more efficiently.

The letter stated that, with a move to Caulfield, Mount Scopus “can start planning the Scopus of the next 70 years”.

But not everyone was on board, with some Facebook responders to the letter expressing scepticism about the plans, while others in the community voiced concern about ALP involvement, due to its Israel policies. 

Contacted by The AJN, Liberal candidate for Macnamara Kate Ashmor declined to comment.

While describing the proposal as “at face value, a valid one”, State Liberal MP for Caulfield David Southwick told The AJN, “Labor has failed to address the significant hurdles of any potential relocation of Mount Scopus from Burwood to Caulfield, including an estimated $300-$400 million cost of demolishing and rebuilding the existing Alfred Health facilities at the Caulfield Hospital to make room for an adjoining school … Thus far, the community has heard nothing from [Victorian Premier] Daniel Andrews” about the plans.

The offices of Andrews and Victorian Education Minister James Merlino had not responded to an AJN request for comment before press time.

PETER KOHN