In less than 18 months’ time, pupils in Alnwick should be starting the new academic year at a brand new – and very long-awaited – school.
An official turf-cutting ceremony took place yesterday at the Greensfield site, where the rebuilding of the Duchess’s Community High School has now begun.
Teachers, governors, councillors, politicians, contractors and, most importantly, students were there to mark what is a major milestone in the development of education in the town, after years of a site split between Howling Lane and Bailiffgate.
The multimillion-pound development, to the south of the town centre, is due to open its doors to students in September 2016.
However, concerns have been raised about the capacity of the school if proposals to convert to a two-tier system of education went ahead, which would see two extra year groups join the school’s cohort.
Nonetheless, the two-storey building will accommodate more than 1,000 pupils and is expected to provide an excellent education facility for current and future generations of children from Alnwick and the surrounding area.
In addition to classroom and administration space, plans include a three-court sports hall and outdoor sports pitches and surfaces.
The school will also have enhanced thermal performance which will mean it is kept cool in summer and warm in winter.
Northumberland Estates has provided the land for the school on a very long lease, while Galliford Try plc has been appointed as the official contractor.
Its first job will be to adjust the levels of the sloping site for both the school and the sports fields – a process called cut and fill. After this is complete, foundations will be laid.
Chairman of governors Lalage Bosanquet said: “Cutting the first turf is very significant and for all those involved in the project it marks an exciting time.
“A tremendous amount of work has taken place behind the scenes over the last 12 months to draw up designs, achieve planning permission and appoint contractors.
“Thanks to a great partnership effort, the school is on track and on time.
“It’s the start of an exciting new era for our school, pupils and staff.”
After years of campaigning, in May 2012, the then Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that the school was one of 261 across the country which would be rebuilt through the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP).
Following this announcement, there was very little obvious movement until the scheme started to shift into top gear in June last year.
It followed the award of the contract for all 12 schools in the North East being funded through the PSBP and a design brief which had been drawn up by representatives from the school, county council and Education Funding Agency the previous autumn.
Coun Robert Arckless, policy board member for children’s services at Northumberland County Council, said: “ It is no secret that Alnwick has badly needed a new high school for many years to replace the split-site and run-down building that it is currently operating from.
“To get to this stage has been an all-round community effort in which so many people hav thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the complicated process which creating a new school always involves. Today is a real milestone.”
Sir Alan Beith MP said: “I’m delighted to see the first steps taken towards the building of the school after the long battle we had to secure it.”