FOLLOWING the announcement today (Tuesday 22 January ) by NI Education Minister John O’Dowd, Down High School Headteacher Mr Paul Logan said that he and his colleagues were delighted to hear the Minister statement that Down High School is one of the schools to be granted the status of a ‘priority project’ for a new school build.
Mr Logan said “The Board of Governors, Senior Leaders at the school and a number of Senior Staff at the South Eastern Education and Library Board have been working very hard for many years, and particularly over the last six months, to bring about this decision. We have also been supported enormously by politicians from all parties, including the MP’s, the MLA’s and the local councillors.
“Although we have made every effort to develop our facilities in recent years, and have succeeded in doing so in a number of ways, there is no doubt that a New Build for Down High is greatly needed. While the recent Inspection Report, which described the school as ‘Very Good’, confirmed that our staff are succeeding in delivering an excellent education, it also made reference to the limited facilities. This announcement brings us much closer to the day when Down High pupils will move into the modern state-of-the-art facilities which they deserve.”
Mr Logan is now looking forward to working with the South Eastern Education and Library Board in order to finalise plans for the New Build on a new site at the Strangford Road.
Mr Logan added: “Whilst it was regrettable that our Open Night had to be postponed due to the severe weather, the timing of the Minister’s announcement means that I will be able to brief prospective parents on the New Build when we hold our rescheduled Open Night on Monday 28 January.”
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O’Dowd Announces Schools’ Building Programme
Education Minister, John O’Dowd has announced that plans for a new building for Down High School can now proceed.
Down High is one of 22 school building projects that Mr O’Dowd has announced will proceed as part of an overall potential £220million capital build programme.
Speaking about the investment, the Minister said: “In June last year, I set out my Department’s capital investment plans, which at that time included an investment of over £133 million in 18 new build projects. I am now announcing a further 22 projects to be advanced in planning representing a substantial potential investment of some £220million.
“The projects are aimed at either addressing serious or substandard accommodation inadequacies, or at effecting agreed rationalisation of the schools estate. I am pleased to announce that Down High will be one of the projects that can now proceed in planning.”
The Minister highlighted that the 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.
Mr O’Dowd also announced that the School Enhancement Programme, aimed at refurbishing or extending existing schools and worth up to £40million over the next two years, was being opened to applications.
“I have previously made it clear that the capital budget available meant we had to do more with the existing estate. That is why I established the Schools Enhancement Programme and I am pleased that I can now open the programme for applications. The available funding will be prioritised on projects aimed at improving existing facilities and enabling structural changes needed across the estate.”
The Minister added: “This announcement is good news for the pupils and staff at Down High School as well as the wider community. The £220million investment will also be welcomed as a much needed boost to the construction sector over the coming years.”
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Rogers Says Minister Has More Homework To Do On Capital Investment Plans
SDLP South Down MLA Sean Rogers has responded to the announcement made by the Education Minister John O’Dowd on ‘Advancing New Schools in Planning’ in the Assembly.
Mr Rogers said: “I broadly welcome the thrust of the Minister’s statement today which sets out the capital investment plans for a number of schools and aims to effect rationalisation of the schools estate and address substandard accommodation, overcrowding or undue reliance on temporary accommodation.
“For some time I have argued it is essential that school maintenance, the school enhancement programme and the commitment to new builds is pursued in order to improve the educational experience of our young people.
“In particular I welcome the planning proposals for new builds at Down High School and also St Bronagh’s Primary school in Rostrevor. For too long many pupils have had to study in sub-standard buildings and this is totally unacceptable.
“All of the new builds announced by the Minister will have a positive knock-on effect for the Construction Industry with a potential investment of up to £625million in the local economy and secure some 6,200 jobs in the industry. Given the difficulties this industry has faced over the past number of months I hope the proposed building work can bolster the prospects of construction workers.
“I regret the time delays in bringing forward these proposals and would urge the Minister to push forward maintenance and building work in a speedy fashion. Our schools cannot be allowed to remain in a sub-standard condition.
“I hope the Minister can give serious consideration for plans to improve accommodation in Knockevin Special School Downpatrick, and to approve a new build in the school which I was formerly principal of, St Louis Kilkeel, in order to secure plans for post-primary Catholic Education in the South Down Area.
“Today I also pushed the Minister in the Assembly to clarify what further investment will be coming down the line. While many schools will welcome the announcements today I would suggest that much more needs to be done to secure a safe and conducive working environment for all our children during their precious years at school.”
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Alliance Welcome Announcement
Down District Alliance Councillor Patrick Clarke said: “I welcome this investment which will go a long way to improve the education of children at schools with inadequate facilities. The Minster has acknowledged that in a modern looking forward society we should not accept a situation where children receive their entire primary education in outdated temporary accommodation.
“The Governors of other schools such as Drumlins Integrated in Ballynahinch will also be welcoming this statement. I hope that the Minister will apply this criteria in the future as they are also in urgent need of a new build.”
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Murphy Delighted at St Bronagh’s Primary School Funding Approved
Crotlieve Sinn Féin Councillor Mick Murphy was also delighted at the news that Education Minister John O’Dowd has approved funds to rebuild St Bronagh’s Primary School in Rostrevor.
He said: “This now means we can finally move forward and ensure the pupils at St Bronagh’s have the best possible environment and facilities for learning in the future. I have been making very strong representations for some time now for this funding and would like to thank the minister for recognising the urgent need to rebuild the school.
“While these projects will depend on the availability of capital funds my understanding is that St Bronagh’s will be a priority, which is very exciting news, not just for pupils and their parents, but also for the local construction industry too.”