On the rise:Owners of Reddam House to turn Harry Seidler building into new school

The owners of Reddam House are set to create a new campus in North Sydney,with plans to convert a Harry Seidler-designed high-rise into a school that would accommodate up to 1550 students.

A proposal to turn a six-storey office block into a kindergarten to year 12 private school was lodged this month by the Inspired Education group,which runs the sought-after Reddam schools in Bondi and Woollahra.

The Harry Seidler-designed building in North Sydney that could be transformed into a kindergarten to year 12 school.

The Harry Seidler-designed building in North Sydney that could be transformed into a kindergarten to year 12 school.Peter Rae

It would be one of at least three co-educational private high schools on the north shore after Marist College started admitting girls last year,and one of just a handful of public co-ed high schools in the area.

The Inspired group lodged the first step in a state significant development application with private construction group Built,which estimates the cost of the project could top $30 million. They propose turning the heritage-listed 41 McLaren Street into a school and would transform the basement into a hardcourt play area and drop-off and pick-up zone.

The building,designed by Seidler in 1971,was sold to Stadia Capital last year for $80 million but is now owned by Built.

Sydney University urban planning professor Nicole Gurran said with more young people and families moving into higher-density housing,schools need to “look at building up,not out.”

“High-density living wasn’t anticipated two decades ago and that has created problems for school infrastructure. Schools don’t have existing capacity to absorb the demand,so we need to look at efficient uses of space which could include more high-rise schooling,” Gurran said.

Sydney has at least three high-rise private schools,including St Andrew’s Cathedral school,next to Sydney’s Town Hall,International Grammar in Ultimo and Macquarie Grammar in Clarence Street.

Two high-rise public secondary schools opened last year,including the 17-floor Arthur Phillip High School,whichstaggers start and finish times to manage the movements of more than 1200 students,and the14-storey Inner Sydney High,on the site of the former Cleveland Street High in Surry Hills.

“The proposed development ... will assist in achieving the estimated student capacity of an additional 21,900 students in both government and non-government schools in the north district by 2036,” the application to NSW Department of Planning and Environment said.

Reddam House at Woollahra where the school’s kindergarten to year 9 students have their classes.

Reddam House at Woollahra where the school’s kindergarten to year 9 students have their classes.Christopher Pearce

Gurran said falling demand for commercial office space could mean more schools move into central business district areas.

Reddam,which is split into two campuses in the eastern suburbs,is well known for being Sydney’s first major school to forgo $5 million in annual government funding and become a fully for-profit enterprise.

Demand for places at the school,which was founded by Australian-South African businessman Graeme Crawford,has grown in recent years,with 80 schools now part of the Inspired group internationally.

Reddam came sixth in last year’s HSC and was the only school in the top 10 that does not require students to sit an entrance exam. In 2021,the school had approximately 1339 students enrolled,with the new campus set to double enrolment capacity.

The school charges between $22,000 for kindergarten students and $36,000 for year 12 students.

“It doesn’t surprise me that a school is looking at repurposing a building like this,” says Stephen Earp,who has been a planning advisor for at least 250 schools across NSW and is head planner at EPM Projects.

“The school will bring 1500 kids to a site that has previously not had more than a few hundred workers,so traffic and transport are the main consideration. I’m not aware of any other schools that have moved into a converted office building of this height,” Earp said.

Associate professor Dean Dudley,from the Macquarie School of Education,said there is no evidence high-rise city schools have any negative impact on students’ performance or learning.

“If there is a move to have schools on vertical and commercial sites planners need to be mindful that green space,ventilation,play area and space for movement are considered when building,” Dudley said.

“Access to natural space is crucial,and ventilation is important,especially if you are going to stick 1550 students into an office block. There needs to be consideration of outdoor spaces for the wellbeing of children as we become more urbanised,” he said.

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Lucy Carroll is education editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a health reporter.

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