Islamic college proposes primary and high school for old Penrith Public School site

Proposal: The former Penrith Public School infants site is up for auction. Picture: Gary Warrick.
Proposal: The former Penrith Public School infants site is up for auction. Picture: Gary Warrick.

An Islamic college has submitted a development application (DA) for an independent primary and secondary school at the old Penrith Public School site on Henry Street.

Irfan College submitted the DA to Penrith City Council on March 1 for students from Kindergarten to Year 12, with up to 120 students expected to attend the school by the end of this year if approved.

The proposal has angered anti-mosque campaigner and North Ward councillor Marcus Cornish, who has vowed to fight the application in Penrith City Council.

But Irfan College principal Ali Arabaci said the college, operated by the Turkish Muslim community, had a long history of education in Australia and would contribute to the area’s social fabric.

On its website, the school states it strives “to maintain a vibrant school staying connected with wider community” and lists respect, caring, commitment, honesty/truthfulness and integrity as its values.

“For us what’s important is raising thinkers and leaders that are confident in their Australian Muslim identity,” Mr Arabaci told the Gazette. “In terms of these current conversations about Islam and extremism, our stance is evident; we are against any form of extremist Islam. Islamic extremism is paradoxical.”

The old public school site, on Henry Street near the Evans Street bridge, dates back to the 1870s and has been used for both primary and infants. The new development is worth more than $1 million and involves fitting out existing buildings for use.

A heritage report contained within the application supports the proposal with proposed works at the site stated to be “minimal”. 

“The proposed use of the site is for a school which is supported, as the historical use of the site would be maintained,” the report to council stated. 

Between 50 and 120 students from Kindergarten to Year 8 would be expected to be enrolled at the school by the end of 2017, with 150 to 180 from Kindy to Year 10 by the end of next year. Three hundred students are anticipated by the end of 2021 from Kindergarten to Year 12, with between 30 to 40 staff.

Housing affordability was the main driver behind the college’s application, Mr Arabaci said.

“Currently there is not a large base in Penrith [for the school] per se, however in the region starting at Blacktown, The Hills, Mt Druitt, there is a large Muslim population,” he said. “People once used to live in Auburn, Granville or Guildford, but they are finding it expensive due to affordability. They are moving out that way, there is a market out there for the Muslim community.” 

But Cr Cornish said he did not want “to bring Punchbowl out here”, which was “the last bastion of the Australian way of life in Sydney”.

“I am outraged at the fact Penrith City Council wants to actively consider having an Islamic school in the heart of Penrith where we don’t have the population to support it,” he told the Gazette. “This time the whole of Penrith needs to know what’s going on.”