Primrose House: a lesson in honouring the past while preparing for the future

There's a new treehouse at historic Primrose house built around an old fig tree and palm that have stood in the grounds for decades.

It shows how the new owners, Scots College have adapted its new role around the fabric of the building's heritage.

Locals welcomed the news that historic Primrose House at Dolls Point was to be saved when Scots College bought it to convert to a preparatory school.

While the renovations of the 128-year-old building have been completed, the new school has evolved around the old building acknowledging its past as a seaside resort hotel, private home, soldiers hospital, Church of England boarding school, a Barnardo Boys Home and a convalescent hospital.

A walk-through with Scots College Head of Campus Brighton Preparatory School, Rod Stoddart shows how the school has incorporated the past.

The new kindergarten classroom was the bar when the building was originally Scarborough Hotel seaside resort. The classroom still has a trapdoor leading the the original wine cellar.

The classroom was used as a dining room when it was St Lawrence College in 1936.

Some of the doorways throughout the school still have grooves where the wheelchairs were pushed through when it was a soldiers' hospital.

"We kept those out of respect to the building's past," said the school's senior administrator, Vicki Gelder.

The old hospital solarium is now the tuck shop. A plaque on the tuckshop wall acknowledges that the solarium was built by the Sans Souci Lions Club in 1963.

Yet while acknowledging the past, the classrooms of Primrose House are set up as agile learning spaces.

"Every room in the school is set up to be flexible," Mr Stoddart said. "They can be used for regular learning as well as co-curricular activities. The boys have agency over their learning environment," Mr Stoddart said.

When it opened last year the school had 24 students. By the end of the year it had 32.

It started the 2019 school year with 62 students. Next year it will add a Year 6.

At the moment there are four classes - kindergarten; Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2); Stage 2 (Years 3 and 4) and a Year 5.

"99 per cent of the students are local, predominantly from Dolls Point and Hurstville," Mr Stoddart said. There are also students from Sutherland Shire and Tempe.

"It is the only all-boys preparatory school between here and Melbourne," Mr Stoddart said.

There are six staff - Mr Stoddart, four class teachers, one specialist teacher and one administrator.

The school's library was formerly the billiards room when it was a hotel and still has the original timber floors.

Now called the Discovery Centre, the room doubles as an assembly room, a chapel, a learning and teaching centre and even a war memorial.

The school has close ties with the members of the Ramsgate RSL Sub-branch who hold an Anzac service in the library.

Pride of place in the Discovery Centre is a model boat, installed to acknowledge Botany Bay which can be seen through the library windows.

Students can sit in the Discovery Room's boat while they read. It all adds to the sense of adventure in learning that the school aims to instill in its students.

"It is called a Discovery Centre because the ethos of the school is adventure and discovery," Rod Stoddart said.

"It's an expediential campus where the boys will have the chance to put theory into practice."

Mr Stoddart said this shows in the strong community ties it is building with local organisations.

"We have close ties with Georges River Sailing clubs so our students from Year 2 onwards experience sailing as part of the curriculum," he said.

"We use Starting Blocks at Miranda for our learn to swim classes. We play sport at Hurstville Oval where we have Big Bash cricket with Danebank and Inaburra schools. We play rugby at Shark Park."

A local cafe at Sans Souci services the tuck shop with healthy lunch options. Steve's Cafe across the road from the school provides a community space for parents and staff to meet.

"The great thing is the community links. We couldn't do a lot of things without the support of the community," Mr Stoddart said.

The school wants to place itself firmly in the middle of community life.

"The original Scots College was started in 1893 by three Presbyterian Ministers at the Brighton Hotel which is now where the Novotel Brighton now stands," Mr Stoddart said.

"That's the reason it is called Brighton rather than Dolls Point Preparatory School.

"And the name Primrose House has remained above the front door as a link to the building's past."