"I want the school to be different", was the reaction from 11-year-old Jonah Malone when asked what he would like to see when Medowie's Catherine McAuley Catholic College opens its gates for the first time to Year 7 and 8 students in 2021.
"I think it's exciting to be attending a new school with its brand new buildings and facilities. I hope it can cater for all kids... I want to be a farmer when I leave school," the Year 6 St Brigid's student added.
More than three years after it was first announced, work is expected to commence within days following last week's government approval for the construction of the $110 million college located on Medowie Road.
The development application includes a high school - to be built over six stages starting with Years 7 and 8 - early education centre, chapel, primary school along with sporting fields and community hall.
Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle chief executive Sean Scanlon said community consultation had shaped the planned development, and results had shown an abundance of support for a catholic secondary school in the Port Stephens area.
"To date, the office has received 126 inquiries from both catholic and non-catholic families, wishing to enrol their children at the high school. Medowie has experienced steady growth for years, and we expect there may be as many as an additional 7000 residents living in the area within the next decade," Mr Scanlon said.
When complete, the high school will be able to accommodate 1200 students from Years 7 to 12.
The reduced travel time and real sense of community were important factors for Jonah's mum Monique Malone, of Raymond Terrace, when considering enrolling her child at the Medowie college.
"My three older children all had to travel into Newcastle for their catholic education, so the time difference was a major consideration," Mrs Malone said.
"I am also mindful of the community aspect, having Medowie as a central point for creating a new and vibrant educational community with learning for children from early learning, through primary and onto high school on the one site."
The school's inaugural principal, Scott Donohoe, comes with plenty of experience having spent the last seven years [three years as principal; and four years as its deputy] at St Clemente in Mayfield.
"With many students travelling to Mayfield from Port Stephens, I have became very familiar with this community and have built strong relationships with families from Tomaree to Tilligerry, Raymond Terrace to the Myall Lakes," he said.
"I see Medowie as a central hub where we can build our own culture, be a driver for change and re-imagine our traditional learning pathways. The world is so different today, we want to prepare students with life skills and careers."
A graduate of St Jospeh's (Hunter Hill), Mr Donohoe said that the curriculum and learning would be aligned with essential competencies such as creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication.
"Rather than a sole focus on knowledge retention, learning experiences will be inquiry-based, personalised and relevant to the real world. A key focus will be developing strong partnerships with local industry to support young people in post-school pathways. So we can assist students like Jonah and his farming ambitions."
Planning department director David Gainsford said that the project would provide direct investment in the region of over $110 million and support 150 construction jobs and 185 new operational jobs.
"The department worked alongside Port Stephens Council, and community members to minimise any impact on the local environment, including koala habitat located on the site of the school. We are satisfied that any impacts on koala habitat can be appropriately mitigated and managed."
Construction of the school will occur in stages over eight years to meet forecast future demand in the region, while funding for the Catherine McAuley College development will come from a variety of sources including the Catholic Development Fund and contributions made by parents and carers through the Diocesan School Building Levy, as well as the NSW and federal governments.