Cambridgeshire college could sell off land to raise money for 'dilapidated' buildings

PUBLISHED: 08:45 12 September 2019

A Cambridgeshire college could sell off land for homes to raise funds for dilapidated buildings and to meet rising pupil numbers. Picture: HELEN DRAKE

A Cambridgeshire college could sell off land for homes to raise funds for dilapidated buildings and to meet rising pupil numbers. Picture: HELEN DRAKE

Archant

A Cambridgeshire college could sell off land for homes to raise funds for "dilapidated" buildings and to meet rising pupil numbers.

Options for Abbey College in Ramsey were presented by Cambridgeshire County Council yesterday (September 10) after the single-academy trust appealed for help.

But no clear route forward emerged from the meeting after headteacher Andy Christoforou said the council's report of its feasibility study "does not present the true issues the school is faced with nor makes clear all the options that are available".

The children and young people's committee resolved to support the trust in its bid for money from the Education and Skills Funding Agency, but ruled out further financial assistance.

The meeting heard the council spent £40,000 on a feasibility study looking at how the school might be redeveloped and expanded.

Academy trusts are state funded schools but are independent of the council and instead receive funding from the government.

The county council owns some of the land on the current school site.

The council's feasibility study outlined three different options for redevelopment: a new build on the north of the site estimated at £54 million, a new build on the south of the site estimated at £56 million, or a refurbishment and new build option estimated at £47 million.

All three options would expand the school's capacity by 300 students.

But the council will now hold further talks with the trust and continue to support a bid for more funding after Mr Christoforou suggested another way forward in the more realistic price range of £8 million to £12 million.

"The facilities in the school are ageing, many of them are unsuitable for the demands of the 21st century," Mr Christoforou said.

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"Most lessons are now taught in buildings that have not been renovated for more than 50 years."

He said the "science labs and other areas of the site are in a state of dilapidation," and described how the split sites are hard to manage and make safeguarding challenges "difficult".

Describing construction challenges, educational capital project manager, Rachael Holliday, said "the main block that is a 1940s building is most likely to be riddled with asbestos".

Mr Christoforou said the trust's proposal costing up to £12 million could be "mainly funded by the sale of excess land on the school site".

And he said selling the land for building homes could also raise Section 106 money which could be spent on repairs and new facilities.

Describing the trust's money problems, he said: "I spend on what equates to two teachers' salaries each year maintaining mothballed buildings.

"And the situation is made even worse by the abbey building which is no longer used for lessons.

"Abbey College relies on a loan from the ESFA and has struggled to break even for many years".

Mr Christoforou said: "The council holds the keys to unlocking a complex problem that has persisted for considerable time".

Labour councillor Joan Whitehead told the committee she was concerned the council financially assisting an academy could "set a precedent" and said the council's assistance should be limited to expertise and cooperation.

Headteacher, Andy Christoforou, said in a statement released after the meeting: "We are very grateful for the support of the Children and Young People Committee in helping us in our bid to renovate or rebuild the college's facilities to ensure they remain fit for the demands of a 21st century education.

"Abbey College has seen tremendous success in the last few years, including our fantastic exam results and Good Ofsted rating, but some of our buildings haven't been refurbished in the last 50 years. As a result, we cannot accommodate the growing number of students entering our school.

"We believe we have an option that could be viable and we look forward to working with the council to explore this further with the Education and Skills Funding Agency."

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