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Fury as council admits there is no cash for Helston College development
7:00am Thursday 18th July 2013 in News
Staff have been left “deeply distressed” and governors “totally let down” at Helston Community College after an 11th hour discovery that their £10 million redevelopment has no funding.
Plans for the rebuilding of C-block, to include 22 classrooms, particularly for English and maths, as well as a library, hall and a gymnasium, have been left in tatters following the news from Cornwall Council.
Representatives admitted to staff and governors at a crisis meeting last Thursday that money pledged by the cabinet a year ago could not be found.
Despite this the authority has said it remains “committed” to addressing the issues and is “exploring all options”.
Twelve months ago cabinet members agreed in principle that the scheme would be built, subject to appropriate funding being approved.
This would come from the council’s capital programme and officers were told to find the money.
The promise came after the members acknowledged the school was falling into increasing disrepair, with a leaking roof, asbestos and windows screwed down to stop the glass from falling out.
Last week, however, Cornwall Councillor Andrew Wallis, portfolio holder for ‘children and young people’ as well as member for the Porthleven and Helston West division, together with Trevor Doughty, corporate director for ‘children, schools and families,’ broke the news that “despite the best efforts of both the council and college” there was no budget for the project.
Headteacher Dr Pat McGovern told the Packet after the meeting: “The staff and governors were deeply distressed; staff were absolutely beside themselves; governors felt totally let down.
“We were led to believe, and carried on in good faith, all on this assumption this was going to go ahead. We wouldn’t have built everyone’s expectations up.
“I kept asking the question, ‘Where is this being funded from? We were told we didn’t have to be worried about that, it was something the officers were dealing with.”
The cabinet is due to meet again on July 31, to see where funding might now be found.
They will consider applying to the government’s £50 billion fund set up to support public sector infrastructure projects.
However, this money will not become available until the 2015-2016 financial year.
Dr McGovern said: “It really is too late to wait on some vague hope for government funding past 2015.”
The college is now pushing for the cabinet members to visit the site before making a decision, rather than rely on officer advice.
A letter was sent to parents on Friday by the college, breaking the news that the scheme could be in jeopardy.
Graham Vallender, chairman of governors at Helston, told the Packet: “There is real anger in the community and there is no bigger priority that educating our community’s children, not only here but the ones coming up in year seven.”
“We feel we’re letting down the children by not being able to deliver this – but it’s not even our gift. We would if we could.”
More than £300,000 has been spent on architects’ plans and the planning process so far, out of an initial £800,000 pot released by Cornwall Council.
According to the college the council is now saying the remaining £500,000 should be spent on repair work – but Barry Drew, chairman of the governors’ resources committee, claimed it would take more than that just to replace the windows in the school.
This has led to Ted Gundry, chairman of personnel and resources at the college, describing it as “the elastoplast project” for its patching up approach.
And the fear is that there will be a further year’s delay at the minimum, as contractors will all be already booked up by now.
Mr Wallis stressed that he was still “really working” to find a solution to the issue.
He said: “I know that the governors, staff, students and parents will be extremely disappointed by this news and so am I. Helston Community College is one of our highest achieving schools and, like all students in Cornwall, its young people deserve to be taught in high quality buildings.
“We all agree that the issues at C-block need to be addressed as quickly as possible and I would like to assure both the school and the local community that this remains a top priority for the council.”
Alec Robertson was leader of the council at the time of last year’s unanimous cabinet vote in favour of supporting the scheme. He said: “This apparent shift in the council’s commitment is alarming but not totally unexpected. Of course, it is vitally important that all cabinet members are fully aware of the severity of Helston School’s situation and that any decision is not rushed through, under the radar, during the summer break.”
Why the work is needed The college has been fighting for better facilities for almost a decade, claiming the building is falling into increasing disrepair.
In 2007 students were forced to learn in temporary huts while emergency repair was carried out to 27 classrooms. During work to put up some new window walling asbestos had to be removed, which revealed that 75 per cent of the floor slabs were cracking.
Support beams being added that were give a lifespan of five years and would have taken the college up to 2012. However, governors claim they have now been told the beams can be in place for 25 years – despite no one revisiting the site to check the current situation.
The governors say students are now working in 30 degree heat during the summer, because the windows have been screwed shut to stop the glass falling out, but in the winter they leak and cold drafts blow in.
Buckets have been a regular sight in many of the corridors and classrooms, to catch the drips that fall through the leaking roof – including over the computer server.
There is no heating in the school hall because although the boilers are new, the 1950s pipe work cannot cope with the pressure.
Yet despite this the college continues to achieve top grades, with the maths department – which is based in the troubled C-block – currently ranked in the top one per cent of the country in an Ofsted inspection.
This has led to fears that their continuing success academically is making them miss out on funding.
Governor Ted Gundry said: “We’re doing good, so we’re forgotten. If we were doing badly the government and everyone else would be on us like a tonne of bricks.”
This is the second time the college faces being let down. Around five years ago it was initially at the top of the list for development through the Buildings Schools for the Future programme, before the criteria was changed to prioritise schools in deprived areas rather than condition of buildings.
After working its way to the top for phase two of the work, hopes were then dashed altogether when the programme was scrapped in 2010.
Timeline 1961: The first secondary school in the county is officially opened, with a 25-year life span.
2003: Conversations begin about the need for new building work.
2007: 27 classrooms are put out of action for seven months after unsafe beams and asbestos are uncovered.
2010: The college comes close to getting a new school through the government’s Buildings Schools for the Future scheme, before the programme is scrapped without warning.
2012: New hope is given when Cornwall Council’s cabinet agrees to fund up to £10 million of development work.
May 2013: Plans for the replacement of C-block, including a new hall and library, are supported by Helston Town Council.
July 2013: A planning decision by Cornwall Council is deferred while objections by Sports England are resolved.
July 2013: The college is told Cornwall Council has been unable to find the necessary funds.
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