A new Islandmagee primary school is a step closer after the Education Minister included it in a “tranche of major capital projects.”
Kilcoan Primary and Mullaghdubh Primary are set to effectively merge into a single controlled school, operating across both sites, from September 1, 2016.
The schools are currently operating out of buildings which are approximately three miles apart, and are also over 100 years old.
Despite the North Eastern Education and Library Board first putting forward the plan for a new school in 2004, the project has not yet been realised.
Today, Education Minister John O’Dowd told the Assembly that the new build Islandmagee school will be one of ten included in a “further tranche of major capital projects.”
“While the construction work on these projects will not take place for several years, it is important that we continue to plan and complete the design work to ensure that should funding become available for construction the department is ready and able to take advantage of the opportunity,” Mr O’Dowd stated.
“The total capital value of these schools is broadly estimated to be circa £40million. In terms of budget, the spend profile associated with the ten recommended projects will be spread over a number of years.”
However, Mr O’Dowd warned that it could be 2018/19 before some of the projects commence.
“While different projects will progress at different speeds, timescales required to complete site searches, technical feasibility studies, business cases, procurement and design processes for the announced projects mean that significant construction spend is unlikely before the 2018/19 financial year,” he said.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson welcomed the announcement.
“When I was first elected in East Antrim in 2004 Ballypriormore closed and a new school was promised then,” he stated.
“It is a pity it has taken 11 years to deliver on that promise, since it has meant children being educated in less than acceptable conditions over the intervening years. However, the vision of a new school was doggedly pursued by Principals, teachers, Boards of Governors, parents and politicians and finally the dream is set to come true.
“With new house building in the area, young families moving in and changes in the facilities required for the modern curriculum the new facilities will enhance educational opportunities.
“Given the difficulties of operating on a split site I trust there will be no delay in getting the work started on the ground and the new school delivered.”
DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said he and a school delegation had recently met with the education minister to highlight the need for a new school.
“I am delighted that he has agreed with us and that this can now proceed to the next stage,” he said.
“I congratulate all those who worked and lobbied so hard for this which has secured the future of primary education provision in Islandmagee.”
UUP MLA Roy Beggs said the new build was “clearly needed” and it had taken “far too long” to get to this stage.
“In answer to an Assembly question in December, the Minister said no capital investment had been made to date on a new site for Islandmagee Primary School,” said Mr Beggs.
“This new build proposal has taken so long that officials did not recognise that £1m has already been invested in securing the new school site on the Low Road some nine years ago.
“I took the opportunity of the Ministers mistake to brief him on the delays that parents, children and teachers have faced.
“With the Department of Education already having invested in the site and planning permission been achieved, I hope that the detailed proposals can now be finalised quickly, and the children of Islandmagee can be provided with a modern school facility.”
Mullaghdubh Primary School Principal Mrs Arlene Cambridge, who will be the Head of the amalgamated school and the new build facility, told the Times that she was “extremely excited” at the announcement.
“I’m so happy for the girls and boys and for the community who have worked so hard at this,” she stated.
“Parents were concerned at the split site and this has given us reassurance that our end goal will happen.
“The site has already been purchased by the Education Authority on the Low Road and the new school will have 165 pupils. We are hopeful that building could start in 2017/18. It will further enhance the children’s learning experience and it is a very positive thing for the community.”
Chair of Islandmagee Primary School’s Interim Board of Governors Rev Peter Bovill described the news as “brilliant” and a testimony to the perseverance of members of the two schools’ communities.
“I want to particularly thank the staff of both schools for their continued passion and dedication during these past years of uncertainty,” he said. “This is an announcement for the entire community here in Islandmagee. It secures Primary School Education in Islandmagee for future generations and continues to strengthen our local community spirit.
“We are looking forward to the beginning of Islandmagee Primary School in September 2016 and even more so now with the anticipation of a new home for our new school.”