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Do you see what I see? (Many would see an empty office. I see a future classroom)

By Ross Elliott - posted Tuesday, 4 July 2023

Global markets are actively exploring how to repurpose now empty office buildings, as the post covid impacts of work from home and distributed employment take their rising toll. Typically, it is the older style office buildings which are most affected. Owners of premium office property compete more aggressively for premium, large-scale tenants who still want the high performance CBD workspace, while the lower graded buildings are often rendered uncompetitive.

Conversion of office buildings to residential is something being explored in markets from Manhattan to San Francisco to London and also here in Australia, but there are a multitude of challenges in converting floor plates designed for office workers using shared facilities (such as toilets) into multi-tenanted apartments each with their own facilities. These challenges have more merit in markets where housing is blisteringly expensive (think Manhattan or London) but even there, the conversion costs are significant and, in many cases, insurmountable (much depends on the building itself).

But as our cities hurtle toward the addition of over a million new residents, there's a conversion opportunity which to me makes a lot of sense, and one which could be achieved at lower conversion costs. Think schools. Here's why.


The latest Queensland Government Statistician's projections for population growth mirrored those for many of our major cities: a lot more people, in a short space of time. For the Brisbane region alone, their medium series predicts an additional 1.2 million people by 2046.


That figure includes an increase of 630,000 children in the 0-14 age group and while the QGSO notes this cohort will reduce as a share of the overall population (due to our ageing profile), the increase of 630,000 kids is a number that will need to be accommodated.

To keep the math simple, assume 500,000 of that cohort will be school age, and assume a typical school size of say 500 students (averaging across independent schools which can be smaller and state schools which are typically larger). There's perhaps 1,000 new schools required.

Where will they go? These projections are for the Greater Brisbane area. The predictions for where growth in the school age population will occur within Greater Brisbane vary. In the Brisbane City Local Government Area (LGA) for example, there's only a predicted increase of 6,610 in the 0-14 year age bracket. (Which is still 13 more schools).



In Moreton Bay, the increase in school age children is predicted to be much higher – at nearly 40,000. And in Logan, the increase is nearly 30,000. That's a lot of kids and a lot of space to find for a lot of schools within the urban footprint.

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About the Author

Ross Elliott is an industry consultant and business advisor, currently working with property economists Macroplan and engineers Calibre, among others.

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