Acacia College: Decision to close slammed

A LONG-STANDING member of the Mernda Parish Council has slammed his own church's decision to close Acacia College, saying it was exposing the Uniting Church to massive compensation claims and destroying its credibility.

Bob Parry, who chaired the parish council from 2001 to 2009, said he repeatedly raised concerns about the financial viability of the school but was unable to get anyone to listen.

Mr Parry's stinging attack comes as commercial real estate agency Fitzroys was appointed to sell the school after the Uniting Church received a number of inquiries from education providers. Fitzroys will call for expressions of interest immediately.

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The Uniting Church last week announced Acacia College, which has 540 students from prep to year 9, would close at the end of the year. The church, which had already accrued more than $40 million in debt bailing out the developer, decided the school was unsustainable six weeks ago after discovering it was faced with further bills, including $10 million for traffic works.

Mr Parry, who has been a chartered accountant since 1951, said he had raised concerns since the idea of the school was conceived in 2006. ''I was wary because it was not being done properly. If you build on sand and not rock you are in trouble, to quote the Bible,'' Mr Parry told The Age.

The school, which was originally slated to open in 2007, did not open until 2010.

Minutes of a meeting with principal Andrew Houghton and two Uniting Church ministers in November 2009 reveal Mr Parry raised concerns that the property developer ''appears to have serious financial problems''.

Other concerns included the ''excessive'' number of administrative staff, construction delays and the fact the contract for the sale of the land to the developer, which had been announced in 2008, had not been completed.

In a letter to Uniting Church moderator Isabel Thomas Dobson, Mr Parry said parents who enrolled their child in 2010 were assured the college would grow progressively.

In a separate letter, he said: ''Your actions in scuttling the Acacia College and telling students and staff to go elsewhere is exposing the Uniting Church to massive compensation claims, whilst at the same time it is destroying its credibility. The time has passed for talking - I would be professionally negligent if I remained silent.''

Mr Parry called on the church to overturn the decision and transfer the development costs of the school to its Property Trust, the registered owner of the land title.

But Ms Thomas Dobson said suggestions the Property Trust could purchase the property were not relevant because it already owned the property. ''It is normal for people who have received a shock … to go through a range of emotions, including sadness, disappointment, hostility and anger,'' Ms Thomas Dobson said.

''People want answers and they look to the leadership of the church to give them those answers. We did conduct due diligence on the process to build the school but in hindsight, even though there were many mitigating circumstances, perhaps we weren't diligent enough.''

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