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Friday, January 20, 2006

Painful past banished

The Mercury: Painful past banished [21jan06]

A NEW international college is being born from the ruins of Tasmania's most notorious mental institution, Willow Court, at New Norfolk.

The fledgling Australia Tasmania College of Technology will welcome in April more than 50 students from China, India and Sri Lanka, who will live and study at the tertiary institution.

The college, which has gained preliminary accreditation from the Tasmanian Qualifications Authority, aims to offer vocational and trade training to Asian students looking for an Australian tertiary education.

The ATCT will specialise in hospitality, financial services, accounting and business management courses.

The college is using converted buildings that formed part of the old Royal Derwent Hospital psychiatric facility for more than 1000 patients before it was shut by the State Government in 2001.

Developers and investors Barbara and Harold Adams, who bought 12 of the empty buildings at the vast Willow Court site for more than $2.5 million, have spent more than $8 million to complete their vision.

As well as the college, Mrs Adams is converting four of the old wings into apartments and building hotel accommodation, restaurants and a reception centre.

The college is run separately from the other commercial developments, although some rooms will be used for student accommodation and the restaurants used as training facilities.

Mrs Adams said she and her husband had fallen in love with New Norfolk and saw the huge potential of the Willow Court site.

Other parts of the old mental facility, in particular its historic Barracks building, remain in the hands of the local Derwent Valley Council and are being converted to facilities for the community and visitors.

"The change we have seen in New Norfolk is huge; when we came in 2002 there were 18 shops empty in the main street, now there isn't one," Mrs Adams said.

Originally, Mr and Mrs Adams thought the site had potential as a retirement village, but now believe it is best suited to a mixed age and purpose centre, with the college as part of its vibrant mix.

ATCT director of studies Jeremy Lindeck said the college appealed to Asian students whose parents were concerned about both the cost and dangers of sending their children to an education facility in Melbourne or Sydney.

Mr Lindeck said Tasmania was regarded as a safe destination, especially given the college's location in New Norfolk, which remains essentially a country town despite its proximity to Hobart.

Also appealing is that all accommodation and meals for each two-year course is provided by the college, and included in the $45,000 cost.

Medical insurance, airfares and some transport costs are also covered, while assistance is given to help students find part-time jobs.

Mr Lindeck said the heart of the college would be the tall Willow Court Towers building, which was the old nurses' accommodation and doctors' training facility.

The social and entertainment heart will be at the college tower, utilising the rejuvenated swimming pool, movie hall and social centre.

"We have this vision that New Norfolk can become a wonderful place built around the college, where the students and teachers are all part of the town, in the same way that Armidale in NSW and Warrnambool in Victoria are now both university towns," Mrs Adams said.

*An Open Day is being held today (Saturday) from 9am to 4pm at the college and Willow Court Inn on George St, New Norfolk, with the public able to look over the converted buildings and inspect the preliminary college facilities.

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