South Gippsland Specialist School

The South Gippsland Specialist School is co-located within the Leongatha Education Precinct. The Precinct is shared with Leongatha Secondary College and Leongatha Primary School, as well as Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE. The school is set on a very steep, north facing slope. To negotiate the incline, the site is terraced and ramped to take advantage of views and to ensure disabled access through out. The linear arrangement of building footprints ensures all buildings have a north facing orientation.

The school determined that the school building and grounds would reflect the everyday environment of an office, home or civic facility. This would expose and provide the opportunity for students to negotiate everyday risks in a supervised setting.

As a K-12 school, a challenge is to meet the diverse needs of students with a wide range of disabilities and age groups. A junior and senior precinct and an area for students with profound disabilities was created to encourage ownership and a sense of belonging for each child in age-appropriate environments.

Each precinct is equipped with satellite sanitary amenities for hygiene control. Open planned kitchenettes open up to a covered outdoor wet area linked to gardens and outdoor play. In addition to this, a secure, secluded courtyard facilitates small group activities or to serve as a ‘time-out’ isolation area.

The precincts are planned for easy access to shared facilities including the gym, hydrotherapy pool, kitchen garden and a commercial kitchen and extensive outdoor play areas. The aim was to create natural, sensory rich outdoor environments that relate to and complement interlinked indoor and outdoor teaching areas.

Emphasis on outdoor activities has been shown in research to be therapeutic for students. A central courtyard is the heart of the school, acting as a collective space for formal and informal social setting and large group activities. The gym and kitchen open up to this area with large counterweight doors.

The use of subdued colours allows the school some ability to control the amount of colour in the school through use of wall mounted art and furniture. The flexibility to control and adjust visual stimuli in the environment is important for students with autism spectrum disorders.

Learning pedagogy has been linked to space in a number of ways:

  • Outdoor learning and the strong connection to gardens are an important part of daily curriculum. Vegetable and sensory gardens, and play areas are easily supervised, and encourage informal socialising.
  • A sensory room based on Snoezelen Rooms is located in the special needs precinct. It is a dark, circular room with custom-built activity walls to provide a range of tactile, as well as electronic audio-visual stimulation. This special environment offers therapy for people with a variety of disabilities, disorders and conditions, including dementia, autism, intellectual disability, brain injury, and chronic pain. Outcomes include anecdotal reports of improved mood, fewer disruptive behaviours, decreased anxiety and fear, improved communication and enhanced interpersonal interactions.
  • Each precinct serves as small, fully serviced home-hub, which enables students to learn and practise life skills.
  • The gym is carpeted and designed with ample secure storage for sporting and recreational equipment. A large central skylight ensures natural lighting throughout and operable louvres.