Historic building may be demolished on new St Albans school site

AN HISTORIC building at the heart of the conservation area in St Albans could be demolished to provide more playground space for the new city centre school.

The Pemberton building, formerly a school and built in 1883, could be knocked down if a planning application lodged by Herts County Council on behalf of Alban City School gets the go-ahead from councillors.

The new free school, set to open in September this year, wants to use the space currently taken up by the building to expand the playground space currently available on site.

‘Surplus to requirements’

Linda Crawley, chair of governors and lead proposer behind Alban City School, says the building is surplus to requirements. If it remains empty, the school will have to maintain the property from its own budget.

Local historians and architects have joined forces with residents to protect the Pemberton Building which they claim is an integral and important part of St Albans conservation area.

The School of Law, soon to house Alban City School, shields the red brick Victorian building from Hatfield Road but for those living in the Grade II listed cottages backing onto the school site, it is clearly visible and obscures the view of the more recently built 1970s School of Law.

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Former district councillor and local historian, Kate Morris, has voiced her objection to the plans since they emerged last year. And while she supports the school she feels the benefit of this additional hard play space does not outweigh the detriment caused by the loss of the building.

Kate said: “St Albans is renowned for and thrives on its heritage; this is why housing demand is so high, development so strong and indeed why we now need more school places. We must not kill the goose which provides the golden eggs. There are high status attractions, but also a wide variety of more modest heritage assets, all contributing to an amenity much valued by both residents and visitors.

Kate and many others who have written to St Albans district council to voice their opposition to the demolition, say the amount of space it will create is unnecessary, even if the school becomes full to capacity since there are no requirements for a certain amount of play space for free schools.

Donald Munro, president of St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society, says the applicant “lacks the local knowledge to comprehend the social historical context” of the building and has called on the district council to retain the building, which could be an asset for the community as a whole, serving as a meeting place outside of school hours.

The group behind Alban City School say demolition would allow them to build a larger playground and deliver a full PE curriculum, including areas for football and netball.

Safety issues

In a letter supporting the application, Mrs Crawley says the school has considered the possibility of allowing a third party to use the building but access to it through the playground raised issues in relation to safeguarding children.

The building also obscures parts of the available play area which would mean employing additional supervisory staff and further impact on the school’s budget.

Mrs Crawley, the former head of Aboyne Lodge School says the Pemberton Building is very close to the main building and prevents easy access to an existing emergency exit.

Consultation on this application is closed and it is currently under consideration.