Keep Roddensvale’s pool plan afloat, minister urged

Roddensvale Principal John Madden shows Education Minister John O'Dowd the new Wooden School playground at the school. INLT 21-366-PR
Roddensvale Principal John Madden shows Education Minister John O'Dowd the new Wooden School playground at the school. INLT 21-366-PR

RODDENSVALE School has not given up hope on its long-awaited hydrotherapy pool becoming a reality, despite the project being shelved more than a year ago.

Construction on the facility, which has been an aspiration of the school’s board of governors since the new building opened in 2005, was expected to start in February, 2010, with an opening date of January, 2011.

But the £650,000 project failed to even get off the ground, after the Northern Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) announced it was on a long list of prospective building schemes for schools, none of which has the necessary funding to proceed. The board added that the fate of the pool was dependant on funding from the Department of Education (DENI), which has not been forthcoming.

And the school has now appealed directly to Education Minister John O’Dowd in a bid to keep the project alive.

Following an invitation from the school, Mr O’Dowd visited Roddensvale last Wednesday to meet with pupils, teachers and other staff and was given a tour of the facilities.

Principal John Madden took the opportunity to make the case for a hydrotherapy pool at the school, explaining the benefits it would have for pupils, such as providing a weight-free environment that allows users to be free of wheelchairs and other restrictions and enjoy a greater range of muscular movement.

Vice-principal Heather Stewart told the Times: “We wanted to keep the hydrotherapy pool on the Department’s radar, and so we invited the Minister here to discuss it. While Mr O’Dowd promised us he would keep the project on his agenda, he also made it clear that there are a number of different pressures on his budget at present. All we can do at present is ask that he keeps us in mind.”

A spokesperson for DENI said: “The Department acknowledges the Roddensvale Special School’s desire for a hydrotherapy pool. The North Eastern Education and Library Board is responsible in the first instance for progressing any proposal for a pool at the school and must consider all requests for capital works within the agreed priorities and available budget.”

While Mr O’Dowd gave no firm commitment to the provision of hydrotherapy facilities during his visit to the school, he did acknowledge the “hard work, dedication and professionalism of staff at Roddensvale and other special schools across the Province.

“I am well aware of the excellent work that is being done in all our special schools to educate, support and nurture children and young people with special educational needs,” he added.

“That professionalism has been in evidence again today here at Roddensvale. There is no doubt that the school is making a real difference to the lives of so many children and young people and also their families.

“The school also has strong links with the local community, which I believe is vitally important. The children and young people at Roddensvale participate in a range of local cultural, arts and sporting activities.

“In addition, the school is an active member of the Larne Area Learning Community and they work in partnership with other schools in the area sharing resources, expertise and facilities in order to improve educational opportunities for young people in the Larne area,” Mr O’Dowd concluded.