‘We want our school to be fully funded’

Gordon Castle at the Duchess's High School in Alnwick.
Gordon Castle at the Duchess's High School in Alnwick.

Campaigners for a new high school in Alnwick have urged the council to fund the shortfall from Government and save the school £1.5million.

Earlier this year, money was allocated from the Government’s Priority Schools Building Programme to rebuild the Duchess’s Community High School, but now a budget from the county council reveals that there will be £6.6million shortfall for aspects such as infrastructure, equipment, moving costs and dealing with the two existing sites.

In a document going before the executive tomorrow afternoon and the full council next Wednesday, members are given three options as to how this shortfall should be funded.

Option one involves the council funding almost the entire amount for the Duchess’s school, as well as two others in Bedlington and Prudhoe, while options two and three would leave the Alnwick school having to find £1.5million, albeit in option three, the money would not need to be found up-front and would be loaned by the council.

Headteacher Maurice Hall said: “I would hope the council is able to look at this thoroughly over the next few days in preparation for the executive meeting and full council meeting next week and is able to support Alnwick students in the best way they possibly can.

“Clearly as a headteacher for the Alnwick students, I would hope they find the means to fully fund the shortfalls that seem to have appeared in the Priority Schools programme.

“The important thing is it’s a once-in-a-generational opportunity to give a new start with respect to facilities and buildings for students in Alnwick.”

The town’s county councillor, Gordon Castle, said that it would be wrong to saddle the school with the £1.5million bill.

“What we shouldn’t have is a new school with second-rate equipment in it,” he said.

“We have a moral obligation to make this as good as possible and that means funding it fully.

“Let’s hope we can get this started as soon as possible. Both the pupils and the staff deserve every effort.”

In all three of the funding options, the county council would pay the majority of the shortfall, which in Alnwick’s case includes £2million for highways works at the new Greensfield site, £1,668,136 for the dilapidation costs in returning the Bailiffgate annex to Northumberland Estates, £350,000 for the demoltion or boarding-up costs at the main site and £680,916 to accommodate additional pupils at the new school.

MP Sir Alan Beith said: “If the county council had to fund the total replacement of the school in Alnwick, it would cost Northumberland’s council taxpayers around £45million, but the vast majority of the new-build cost is coming from the Government and the Northumberland Estates are providing the land at a peppercorn rent for 125 years, saving up to £20million.

“I am very pleased that the county council accepts responsibility for the new road to the site which is needed, and recognises their responsibilities under the existing lease for Bailiffgate.

“Since the vast majority of the cost of a new school will not fall on the council or council taxpayers in Northumberland, I hope the executive and the full council will decide to provide the remaining £1.5million to furnish and equip Alnwick’s new high school, and I am talking to senior councillors about this issue.”