March 2018 Daily Telegraph
After almost 60 years, the Royal Institute of Deaf and Blind Children is relocating from its site at North Rocks which just been listed for sale through expressions of interest. The prime 12.6ha estate located across the road from a shopping centre, primary and high school, could make the charity in excess of $200m, to be used to create an endowment to fund long term activities. The not-for-profit group are set to move most of their services and educational facilities to an ‘Australian Hearing Hub’ located at Macquarie University that also includes Cochlear Limited. “It is a really wonderful precinct that really keeps Australia at the forefront of hearing health and hearing services, and of course, we are bringing the vision services to it as well,’’ said RIDBC chief executive Chris Rehn. “It is so compelling and exciting to be part of a bigger precinct focusing on lifting that Australian bar so when we considered rebuilding here, we couldn’t ignore the exciting development that were happening on the campus at Macquarie University.’’
The RIDBC moved to North Rocks from City Rd, Newtown in the 1960s to what was originally farming land. At the time it provided mostly residential facilities for hearing and vision impaired children who were segregated from the mainstream community. Over the decades, practices have changed with the majority of youngsters now attending their local school with their peers. The use of technology such as iPads in classrooms and cochlear implants for have become “game changers” for youngsters with hearing and vision loss, Mr Rehn said.
Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children Chief Executive Chris Rehn
There are currently three preschools and three schools remaining on the site on North Rocks Rd, in addition to early intervention services, technology consultations and a cochlear implant program.
These will be recalibrated and reformed in newer purpose facilities that will be leased from the university. Most children attending the schools are aged 0-5 years and will have graduated from the program when the charity moves from their current site in 2020.
Minister for Disability Services John Ajaka, Lesleigh and Jacob, and RIDBC chief executive Chris Rehn
“The good news is none of those services are closing because of our relocation to Macquarie,’’ Mr Rehn said. “Only 30 per cent of the site we actually use and while we have loved this site and all the space it offers, it is not what I would call fit for service in terms of the way that we deliver those services today.’’
Agent Jon Chomley from Colliers said it was rare to have a site of such a scale come onto the market in the middle of suburbia. Its proximity to an existing shopping centre, schools and transport is likely to drive interest from major developers. There is also potential for aged care or a retirement village on the site. “You get good views too as it sits on top of a hill so when you go up a couple of levels you can see out to Parramatta and the city — its pretty special,’’ Mr Chomley said.
There were just four large development sites sold in Sydney last year and none the land size of North Rocks. The site is currently R2 suitable for low density residential but is likely to go through rezoning.
The Expressions of Interest will close at the end of the month and is expected to include offers from groups who will buy the site with its current zoning and from those who want to go through discussions with Council and State Planning. “It will depend on just where those prices land as to which way the Institute decides to go,’’ Mr Chomley said. “I would think its probably going somewhere above $200m in terms of value but it might take several years to get the rezoning to that point. It might sell to a developer who wants to tie it up today, then get the planning done and then settle on it well down the track.’’
The RIDBC is investigating the potential to run some services from the adjacent North Rocks Shopping Centre and have also established a new centre at Rouse Hill — one of 22 outlets across the country. Mr Rehn said while they have “loved and enjoyed” all the buildings on the site, they understand they may not fit in with the new owner’s plans for the land. “It comes down to what new community function this site will provide moving into the future, we hope that it is highly relevant to our immediate neighbours and the border district,’’ he said.