Last century's coal-fired technology is on track for conversion into a 21st Century learning centre after the NSW Government contributed $6.1 million towards the University of New England's ambitious Boilerhouse Discovery project.
Announced today, the funding enables UNE to start planning construction of a unique learning space for children within the shell of the old industrial building that once was UNE's source of winter warmth.
UNE's Vice-Chancellor and CEO, Professor Brigid Heywood, said that the University's commitment to the Boilerhouse, and the NSW Government's investment in the project, represents an important public commitment to the future of education in the region.
"UNE was built on the idea that learning unfolds over an entire lifetime, not just in the few years of study for a degree," said Prof. Heywood.
"The Boilerhouse is intended to captivate our youngest citzens with the magic and power of learning. Once that power has been experienced, it is never forgotten."
"If the University can inspire a discovery culture and a love of learning in our children, we have gone a long way towards fulfilling our social contract with our community."
"I offer a sincere thank-you to the State Government for seeing the strength of the vision we have for the Boilerhouse, and making this extremely practical contribution towards the region's learning capability."
Prof. Heywood joined Member for Northern Tablelands, Adam Marshall, and NSW Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, at the Boilerhouse today for the funding announcement.
"This will create the Questacon of country New South Wales," Mr Marshall said.
"It is all about broadening young people's minds, giving them practical educational experiences, and it is also a rich teaching resources that our teachers can take advantage of."
Prof. Heywood noted that $5 million has already been invested in stripping the original 1973 boilerhouse building of hazardous materials, ready for its transformation.
"We cannot do this alone. Private and philanthropic investment has been crucial in developing the Boilerhouse vision. The substantial public investment announced today takes us to the bricks-and-mortar stage of development, but we still need partners who want to be part of this vision."
Prof. Heywood foresees the Boilerhouse becoming a focal point for 'educational tourism'. It will crown an existing range of assets at UNE which, in combination with facilities like the New England Regional Art Museum in Armidale and other institutions around the region, could become the elements of region-wide precinct for educational discovery.
"We are working within a global movement that is bringing young people, parents and educators together in ways that encourage new forms of learning based on creativity, rather than a fixed classroom model."
UNE Discovery leader and Boilerhouse champion, Dr Kirsti Abbott, said the concepts that can be housed within the structure's large, industrial-themed spaces will ensure a unique learning experience for its future visitors.
"You can imagine children crawling through a giant brain and learning about their own neurobiology, or entering a big cave that helps them understand the geology of the region," Dr Abbott said.
"We hope to increase the aspirations of regional children, and reset their expectations of what's possible."