PLANS to replace crumbling schools are finally pushing forward after a decade of frustration.
Hetton School, Seaham School of Technology, Hylton Castle Primary and Shiney Row Primary are part of a £156million scheme of 12 across the region to be rebuilt by the Government as it replaces schools in the worst condition.
Views are being gathered from pupils, staff, parents and residents as work begins on planning applications.
The schools have faced a series of false starts on rebuild plans, while facing huge bills – in Seaham’s case £7.5million – to make sure they meet safety standards.
The Priority School Building Programme has awarded Miller the contract to design and construct the schools and then take on their maintenance over a 25-year period in a deal worth £55million of the total cost.
The firm is also a private investor partner in the project, with most schools aiming to increase the facilities they offer their community as they make the move.
It is hoped work will begin in the New Year, with all 12 to be completed by August 2016.
Bridget Phillipson, Labour MP for Sunderland South and Houghton, and her Easington counterpart Grahame Morris, have lobbied Government for action following Michael Gove’s decision to scrap their party’s Building Schools for the Future scheme when he was appointed as Education Secretary.
Ms Phillipson said: “After four years of hard lobbying, meeting ministers and asking questions in Parliament, it’s a welcome step forward that preparation work to rebuild schools like Hetton is finally underway.
“However, it’s disappointing that schools will have to fund equipping and furnishing new classrooms themselves – under the previous Labour Building Schools for the Future Scheme, classroom equipment was included at no extra cost to the school.
“I will continue to keep up the pressure on the government to support school rebuilding and invest in the future education of children in the North East.”
Geoff Lumsdon, deputy head of Seaham School, which has been given a budget of between £13million to £14million, said: “We’re very excited and we’ve held an assembly about it for the kids, and now we’re welcoming views as part of the public consultation.”
Hetton School said it did not know how much its new building will cost, but previous designs have been priced at £10million.
Elaine Armstrong, headteacher of Hylton Castle Primary, added: “We’re delighted. It’s going to have such an impact on the children’s learning.
“It will also be good for the community, which is of paramount importance to us, and this will allow us to work with it more.”
Other schools already being replaced as part of the same project include Durham Trinity School and Sports College in Durham, Usworth Grange Primary in Washington, and St Anthony’s Catholic Girls Academy in Sunderland.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We are on course to rebuild 10 schools in Sunderland and County Durham by the end of 2017 under our Priority School Building Programme.
“Construction has started at five of the schools – and we are expecting three of them to be open before the end of this year.
“The Priority School Building Programme is ensuring that vital building work takes place at some of the schools in the worst state across the country.”
l Comment – Page 18