St Albans pupils face return to ‘building site’ school

BUILDING work on a St Albans’ primary school has ground to a halt over the summer, leaving the head teacher with an abandoned construction site with which to welcome back pupils.

Mandeville Primary School’s building expansion has been temporarily halted since July 23 while finances are reviewed by the county council in the wake of rising costs.

The county council is currently negotiating with contractors to ensure the expansion is delivered within the available funding budget but children will return to the same situation as when the school broke up in July.

Pupils were invited to a picnic in the school grounds in July where they watched the old part of their school demolished to make way for new Key Stage 2 classrooms. Some of the children have been switched to mobile classrooms in the interim period.

The building work was scheduled to start during the school holidays to avoid too much disruption but work stopped on the last day of term and nothing has been done since.

Mandeville is one of several St Albans schools which agreed to create extra places in recent years because of the shortage of primary places in the city centre.

Lib Dem councillors claim that the whole process is “deeply disturbing” and are alarmed by the county council’s lack of urgency in resolving the rebuilding issue, particularly with the new school year looming.

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Cllr Martin Frearson, who represents Verulam ward on the district council, said: “Mandeville is an extremely well-managed school which is being treated disgracefully. Although it will be possible for the school to open as planned on September 3, the conditions for teaching and learning are far from ideal because of the county-enforced delay in the works planned over the summer break.

“I am appalled at this situation. After years of bailing out County Education by providing extra places in reception classes, being left in the middle of a building site is all the thanks Mandeville gets. It is just not acceptable. The figures being provided in justification of cutting back the project do not make any sense, they vary from �500,000 to �1m. Someone has lost control of this project.”

The �7m extension and refurbishment programme began in February and was expected to be finished by September 2011. The new building was also intended to offer the local community access to sports, library and IT facilities but that could all be in jeopardy due to costs.

Cllr Frearson said that such a cutback was unacceptable: “Sopwell is one of the most deprived wards in Hertfordshire where the majority of parents and carers do not have internet access. This facility is a vital part of the school’s vision to create a more integrated cohesive community on the Cottonmill estate.”

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “In the current financial climate we simply cannot allow contracts to exceed their original price. We acknowledge that it is frustrating that work hasn’t taken place over the school holidays but the order has been placed for structural steelwork which will allow the project to proceed although there are still financial elements to be resolved.”