Minister pledges cash for new school build

Monkstown Community School principal, Nigel Pell-Ilderton.
Monkstown Community School principal, Nigel Pell-Ilderton.
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Education Minister John O’Dowd has announced that the borough’s proposed new post-primary school is to get a new building.

Abbey Community College, which will be created following the merger of Monkstown Community School and Newtownabbey Community High in September 2015, is one of 15 schools across Northern Ireland due to benefit from new build projects as part of a £170m capital investment by the Department of Education.

The North Eastern Education and Library Board recently confirmed that the new college will be located at the existing Monkstown School site on Bridge Road, despite calls from some quarters for it to be based in Rathcoole.

While the department has confirmed that the combined school will be included in the capital investment programme, it hasn’t released any details of where or when the new build might take place, or how much will be allocated to the project.

Monkstown principal Nigel Pell-Ilderton said that the Minister’s announcement had come as “a bit of a shock.”

“We are delighted that this money is being allocated to a new build, but we don’t know any of the details,” he said.

On Tuesday, June 24, Mr O’Dowd told the Assembly that the 15 new builds “represent the highest priority projects which have successfully come through a rigorous selection process.”

“My Department’s strategy for capital investment into the foreseeable future will remain focussed on supporting the development and delivery of a network of viable and sustainable schools, shaped by the outworking of the area planning process,” he said.

“This represents good news for schools and for their communities. It is also good news for the economy. With £170m of capital investment this will be a welcome boost for the construction industry over the coming years.”

Welcoming the Minister’s announcement, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said: “The work at Monkstown will mean that the new amalgamated school will have the best chance of providing adequate facilities for the pupils who transfer to it and those currently in attendance.”

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson added: “This announcement needs to be turned into real action on the ground, and I shall be relentless in ensuring that this project is enacted by the Department of Education.”

Meanwhile, North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, who campaigned for the merged school to be sited in Rathcoole, believes that the Minister’s announcement raises new questions about where Abbey Community College will be located. (See next week’s Times)