HOPES for new primary school buildings in Larne and Islandmagee are a step closer to being fulfilled, Education Minister John O’Dowd has said.
A replacement school in Islandmagee, and a permanent building for Corran Integrated Primary School are among 22 new-builds now added to the Department of Education’s capital programme. Both projects have been long-awaited and while construction is subject to availability of funding, the latest move does at least ensure that the preliminary planning process will now be progressed.
Mr O’Dowd told the Assembly on Tuesday: “In June last year I set out my Department’s capital investment plans, which included an investment of over £133 million in 18 new-build projects. Work on these projects is progressing well and I am confident that the first of these will be on site early in the new financial year.”
He added that he was announcing “a further 22 projects to be advanced in planning, representing a substantial potential investment of some £220 million. The projects, 14 of which are primary school projects and eight are post-primary, have been considered within the context of the area planning work being undertaken and form part of the long-term provision within their respective areas.
“The projects are aimed at either addressing serious or substandard accommodation inadequacies, or at effecting agreed rationalisation of the schools estate.”
However, according to a press release issued by his officials, the minister also indicated that “authorisation to proceed with construction on each project would be based on the level of capital funding availability at that time and all necessary approvals being obtained”.
East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said the investment package will “fund advances” in planning the new schools, adding that he was “delighted that after much campaigning the minister has finally decided to take the projects forward”.
Mr Dickson added: “I have written to the Education Minister several times about both projects, stressing their high priority and the need for investment. In both cases, the minister left open the possibility of future investment and I am delighted that he has taken them forward.”
He said pupils at Corran receive their entire primary education in “outdated”, 20-year-old temporary classrooms.
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“This is not fair on the pupils, or their teachers who provide excellent teaching in a difficult environment. As a champion of integrated education, the failure to fund new facilities at Corran has frustrated me, but I am delighted that a new, permanent school building is finally on the horizon.”
Mr Dickson said he was aware that the Islandmagee school plan was considered a high priority case by officials, adding: “The news that plans for a new-build are to be taken forward is a relief for pupils, parents and teachers and is a boost for the whole of Islandmagee, which should have a new, modern primary school building that will serve the community for years to come.”
UUP MLA Roy Beggs Jnr said: “Everyone concerned with the schools affected by the funding announcement - teachers, pupils, governors and parents - will be delighted at the news that they have finally been approved for funding.
“The amalgamation of the primary schools in Islandmagee has been a very long, drawn-out affair, but with a site bought and planning approval already granted, I would hope and expect that the new school would be built and established very soon.
“In the case of Corran Integrated, this has been a successful and growing school operating out of temporary premises for 20 years, so again modern, permanent accommodation is long overdue. I would, however, add that the current location of the school in a residential cul-de-sac at Blackcave has been the source of serious and persistent complaints about traffic congestion. Given the physical constraints and growing numbers of pupils at the school, I would seriously question whether the current site is suitable, unless some solution to the access issues can be produced in the planning application.”
A new primary school for the Islandmagee area was promised when Ballypriormore PS closed in December, 2003 as part of a rationalisation programme that would entail the amalgamation of the Mullaghdubh and Kilcoan schools in a new building.
A development proposal for the amalgamation was approved in April, 2004 and a revised economic appraisal followed in October, 2006. Outline planing approval for a school was granted in July, 2005 and the site purchased in April, 2007 for £900,000.