Students playing key role in long-awaited CBD rebuild to make themselves more employable

With just two days before the end of term, Year 11 school student Brayden Baker should be laying low, counting down the hours until Christmas holidays.

But this is not a normal classroom, and what he's working on is not a normal school project.

The 16-year-old Ipswich State High student has been cutting wood and shovelling dirt – putting the finishing touches on what looks to be a planter box,  but is really the foundation of Ipswich's future.

He's concentrating intently, aware that in a few weeks his work will be on public display in the "heart" of the city, as part of the redeveloped CBD.

What Brayden might not be aware of is what his work symbolises.

He was just six when the CBD redevelopment was first announced by Ipswich's previous council a decade ago and he was only 13 when that council was sacked over corruption allegations in 2018. 

It's hoped a revitalised Ipswich mall will help rebuild trust in new council leadership.(ABC News: Rachel McGhee)

In the three years since, the new council, led by Mayor Teresa Harding, has made the project a priority, hoping it will herald a new chapter for the city and build new trust in the administration.

The work of Brayden and his classmates is vital in making that vision a reality – construction students build and plumb the boxes, while horticulture students plant foliage as part of a new partnership program between the school and the council.

Curbing the region's unemployment

It's also a crucial step towards ensuring student's success after graduation.

Unemployment in Ipswich is among the highest in the state at 8.4 per cent, compared to Queensland's average of 5.9 per cent.

The partnership aims to broaden students' career opportunities. (Supplied: Ipswich City Council)

The program aims to buck that trend by providing students with workplace experience on real-world projects.

"It's exciting … [to] showcase your work and everyone else's," Brayden said.

"It's better [than normal school work], the hands-on part of it all rather than just having to sit in a classroom all day."

"The whole CBD redevelopment is bringing that beating heart back to Ipswich, and it's giving us community pride again," Mayor Teresa Harding said.

"I think it's really important for our community to see that, that we're looking after each other, that these are things, projects, that we're making this for ourselves."

Ipswich State High School principal Simon Riley with Mayor Teresa Harding.(Supplied: Ipswich City Council)Keeping students in school

The partnership between Ipswich City Council and Ipswich State High School is the first of its kind and is "absolutely essential" in preparing trade students for the workforce, principal Simon Riley said.

It centres around the school's Trade Training Centre – the biggest in the state – which provides free vocational education training as part of high school study.

Under the partnership, the council supplies materials to the school while students build, plant, plumb and position the boxes.

Students measure dimensions of a planter box set to house Christmas trees in the Ipswich CBD.(Supplied: Ipswich City Council)

"It keeps [students] in school," Ipswich State High School principal Simon Riley said.

"When I started 17 years ago, there was a general feeling that Ipswich was on a downer, we were graduating first in the family to year 12," he said.

"Now you don't drop out early. We're managing to get our kids through the school.

"With our trade programs here … those students are walking out into employment when they finish."

Three planter boxes will be ready, plumbed and planted with Christmas trees in the CBD precinct by December.

"They'll be just outside the train station … front and centre," Ms Harding said.

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"It's very important for this council to [build] visual trust with the community, and part of that is working together."

The partnership will continue over the next two years before the CBD precinct is completed in 2023.

"This is the starting point, the council is already talking to us about what else we can do with them," Mr Riley said.

"You only have to read the newspaper to find out how many houses aren't getting built.

"Well, there's a whole bunch of my tradies waiting to build them."


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