Fire may have burned the center of this historic school, but it could not destroy its heart

A Broome school community has celebrated the end of a big building project, after its historic campus was gutted by fire two and a half years ago.

Four classrooms, the staff room and administration center at Broome Primary School were destroyed by a former student’s act of arson in January 2020.

The new $7.2 million rebuild has allowed the school, founded in 1901, to better cater for modern educational needs and environmental considerations.

A Broome architect who specializes in tropical designs was tasked with creating a “bespoke” style of buildings within a small area in the school’s heart.

“We were very lucky that the Minister for Education said we could make the school achieve the same Broome-style feel that the original school had,” said Sue Thomas of Engawa Architects.

school veranda
Central pavilions connect new buildings and allow breezes to flow through.(Supplied: Engawa Architects)

“We had to innovate within constraints [of space and school needs].

“It gave us a lot of opportunity to build a bespoke facility as opposed to a standard primary school.”

Classrooms have dimmable skylights, louvres and built-in storage, The school’s center has been opened up to create more play and outdoor learning spaces.

Rain will be channeled down steel gutters into large bowls that spill into grassy swales or through rocky rivers — ideal nature play zones.

“When it does rain, not only do we capture it in really fun and visible ways, but we then channel all of that water into the transpiration beds, which helps us with getting the water back into the ground as opposed to out into the street ,” Ms. Thomas said.

Children play on a grassy area in front of buildings
Sue Thomas says she was “lucky” to have had freedom in the design process.(Supplied: Engawa Architects)

Classes were conducted in temporary rooms for months while the massive reconstruction was carried out by Broome builder Harold Tracey, a former student of the school.

Principal Daryl Mansfield says the teachers and 400 students are overjoyed with the result.

“The demountable city has gone,” he said.

“We now have state-of-the-art, absolutely beautiful facilities that are designed for our climate and for our education.

“The kids are so excited … I think we’re all walking around pinching ourselves after what we’ve gone through.”

For architect Sue Thomas it is the “sense of place” that she is most proud of.

“It feels like it belongs here — it isn’t a standard pattern primary school that could look like any other school,” she said.

Mr Mansfield paid tribute to the community who rallied behind the school, and Broome’s Yawuru Traditional Owners, who gave BPS a motto to help in the rebuild:

“Jirrilngany Ngarrungunil Yagarrmijala — Strong people, we will rise up”

Image of residents watching as Broome Primary School burns on Sunday afternoon.
Residents watched in tears as fire tore through Broome Primary School in 2020.(ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

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