THE Department of Education must get involved in deciding the future of the St Comgall’s College site in Larne, MLA Roy Beggs Jnr urged this week.
The Ulster Unionist representative said he was “highly disappointed” with “the lack of interest” shown by the Department when he first suggested making use of the vacant Bankhead buildings rather than seeing them demolished.
Now he has learned from the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) that demolition has been put on hold “pending further exploration”, and Mr Beggs said he believes the Department must have an input.
“I contacted the Department of Education in early September with my concerns about the future of the St Comgall’s site and buildings.
“I have to say I was highly disappointed with the lack of interest shown by the Department at that time. They basically said it was solely a matter for the trustees of St Killian’s College and CCMS.
“This despite the fact that the vast bulk of the building maintenance and running costs for the school have been borne by the Department - and therefore the general taxpayer - since it was built in the late Fifties,” he explained.
“I also wrote to CCMS and, to be fair, they have shown a willingness to explore various options,” said Mr Beggs.
“They have received permission from the Department to demolish the buildings, however they have put this on hold ‘pending further exploration of the matter’.
“Given the ministerial statement of several weeks ago where the Education Minister (John O’Dowd, Sinn Fein) made comments in Stormont about there being no money for new school building programmes, and where he talked of ‘innovative solutions’ to accommodation issues, I believe the Department need to step in and take a much more proactive approach in this case.”
Mr Beggs, who has now written again to the Department, added: “Interest has been expressed in exploring options for the future use of the St Comgall’s site.
“It is now up to the Department of Education to facilitate these explorations with any interested parties from whatever sector of the education system they come from.”
Last week, several contributors to the Larne Times Letters Page suggested the site would be suitable for a replacement Corran Integrated Primary School, which is presently in temporary accommodation at Blackcave North.
One person called for some “joined-up thinking” between DENI and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools to provide a “value-for-money solution that would benefit the whole community”.