New Bushfire and Heatwave Haven opens at Moruya Preschool

Standing Left to Right: Project Manager Thomas Schild (holding Assistant Project Manager Luka); Councillor Alison Worthington, Geoffrey Ward, Preschool Dircetor Marie Sutton, Vinnies Community Development Officer Lucas Ringland. Front: SHASA President Kathryn Maxwell and Micro Energy Systems Australia’s Steve Cornthwaite.

Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance (SHASA) has officially opened a new bushfire and heatwave haven at Moruya Preschool Kindergarten.

During the Black Summer bushfires, families sheltered in the brick preschool building. Now it is upgraded to better serve the community in times of greatest need.

Project manager Thomas Schild said there were four key components to the haven; solar panels and a storage battery, a HEPA air filter, a back-up power source and independent fire fighting facilities.

SHASA president Kathryn Maxwell said the haven was a fantastic gift to the community.

“Very vulnerable people have a place to go in an emergency,” she said.

The sun was beating in on the dignitaries at the opening ceremony, on the lawn outside the preschool.

The 25 children inside would not know the heat of the sun, because the solar panels on the centre roof were powering the air-conditioner keeping them cool inside.

Steve Cornthwaite from Micro Energy Systems Australia said the centre had the capacity to run for three to four days autonomously with very little sun. During bushfires, when smoke inhibits solar panel efficiency, the centre will still be able to operate and provide safety for the community.

Since the solar panels and battery were installed in July 2021, the preschool has not used any energy off the grid. Their quarterly $900 energy bill has disappeared, and the centre has exported four megawatt hours of energy back onto the grid.

“It’s not just for fires,” Ms Maxwell said. “It will cut their everyday costs.”

Mr Schild said the HEPA air filter was a fundamental part of the safety of the project.

“We know from all the research done post-fires that the adverse impacts of air-quality are more severe than the danger of the bushfire itself,” Mr Schild said.

“Here in Moruya during the bushfires we had three or four months of quite smoky conditions, when we only had four direct fire threat days in town.”

Mr Schild said the HEPA air filter was also useful during hay fever season, filtering air as it entered the building.

Preschool director Marie Sutton said the haven at the preschool was important for sustainability, resilience and community. Building resilient pupils and contributing to a resilient community is a key component of the kindergarten’s charter. Now it is reflected, too, in the building itself.

“Here is a way we can contribute resilience to the community,” Ms Sutton said. “We are giving back to the community.”

The first two grants SHASA applied for to fund the kindergarten upgrade were unsuccessful, but SHASA was awarded $25,000 by the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal. Vinnies community development also contributed more than $5000 to the project.

Moruya preschool is the second bushfire and heatwave safe haven SHASA has helped to create in the Eurobodalla. The Red Door Hall at Moruya’s Anglican parish was transformed into a haven at the start of 2020 and was in operation for the Black Summer fires.

New deputy mayor Cr Alison Worthington pointed out SHASA had a strategic plan prior to the Black Summer bushfires and was already planning for extreme weather events – such as the Red Door Hall centre. She was pleased to see another haven opening for the Moruya community.

SHASA has just received funding to begin creating new havens at the CWA hall in Narooma and the Central Tilba halls.

Article by james Tuckwell – Bay Post. 9 February 2022

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