Hopes for a long-awaited hydrotherapy pool at Roddensvale School look set to become a reality, after Education Minister John O’Dowd this week pledged to deliver the project.
The facility – which provides a weight-free environment allowing pupils to be free of wheelchairs and enjoy a greater range of muscular movement – has been an aspiration of the school’s board of governors since the new building opened in 2005.
However, the project has been stuck in limbo since 2011, when the Department of Education shelved the scheme due to budget cuts.
But – much to the delight of pupils, parents and staff at the Larne school – Mr O’Dowd has given his full support to the project and said he will endeavour to ensure its is delivered as soon as possible.
The Sinn Fein minister made the welcome announcement during a visit to the school on Thursday, having been invited to attend by his party colleague, East Antrim MLA Oliver McMullan.
The school is hopeful that funding could be made available for the project as early as next month.
Following his visit, Mr O’Dowd said: “I was delighted to be able to visit Roddensvale School to meet with pupils, staff and governors and to give them the welcome news that the school will be receiving a new hydrotherapy pool.
“I know the wider school community has been working in recent times to secure the building of such a facility.
“I advised the school that, as with any capital project involving public money, appropriate governance arrangements still need to be followed. Nevertheless, I committed to doing everything in my power to ensure the swift delivery of this important project.”
School principal Mr Madden spoke to the Larne Times of his surprise at the minister’s announcement.
And he hoped the project would be included in the next round of capital funding, due to be announced in February.
The Northern Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) is currently in the process of re-costing the planned facility.
If the pool falls into the category of major works, the Department of Education will be responsible for the funding, while NEELB will finance the project should it be classed as minor works.
Mr Madden said: “Everyone here was devastated when the pool development was shelved in 2011. This was meant to be a community resource and user groups ranging from preschool children and their parents, mainstream pupils with hydrotherapy needs, adult centre users and of course our own pupils have all been disadvantaged by the failure of this scheme ever since.
“Now, thanks to the minister’s statement to support the funding of the pool, we are all looking forward to the NEELB fulfilling their desire to get the project in front of the minister by mid-February, after which we should have some indication of when the pool might be built.”
East Antrim MLA Oliver McMullan said he was “over the moon” at Mr O’Dowd’s announcement.
The Sinn Fein representative added: “I have been lobbying very strongly for at the Assembly and bending the ear of the minister on this subject for quite some time.
“As the parent of a child who has special needs, I am well-placed to understand the long-term benefits a hydrotherapy pool can have.
“The pool would be a great addition not only to the school, but to the entire community as groups ranging from preschool children and their parents, mainstream pupils with hydrotherapy needs to adult centre users would be able to use it.”
The timing of the announcement could not be better for Roddensvale, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary next month.
It also coincides with the building of a new wing to replace a double mobile, which currently accommodates those pupils aged 17 – 19 years who are preparing for their transition from Roddensvale.