Principal slams Board after gates are locked to keep pupils out

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The principal of Hazelwood Integrated College says staff and students were “devastated” after the Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) stopped them moving in to new mobile classrooms on the first day of term.

Mrs Kathleen Gormley said that she was forced to send home 200 pupils on Tuesday (September 3) as the BELB had padlocked the gates to prevent access to the new classrooms and sixth form centre on the old Cedar Lodge School site.

The mobile classrooms were financed privately by Hazelwood through money donated by the Integrated Education Fund and the Belfast Trust for Integrated Education at a cost of around £150,000. However, the BELB has said the college did not have the necessary permissions, including a lease from the Board, to go ahead and erect the building on the site.

“BELB had indicated previously that they would not be the cause of any delay in this issue. Hazelwood College had reasonable expectation of possession of the time-bound lease by the start of this new academic year,” a statement issued by Mrs Gormley said.

“Staff at the college have worked tirelessly over the past few weeks to clean, furnish and prepare the classrooms for children returning for a new school year. We hope an interim solution can be put in place immediately in the interests of all our pupils.”

A BELB spokesman confirmed that the Board did receive a written request from the college in May 2013 to acquire a lease in relation to the Cedar Lodge site. However, he said that it was reinforced that the acquisition of the proposed lease needed to be compliant with the Board, Department of Education, Belfast City Council Building Control and Department of Environment approvals - some of which the school says it has already obtained.

“In the interim, it was inappropriate to commence any work on the site, as this was still Board property. In that regard, it was made clear that this would not be achievable in September 2013,” he stated.

“Further to a recent site visit, it became clear that a building had been erected, without the appropriate approvals. Given the seriousness of this matter, the Board has been in regular contact with the Board of Governors of Hazelwood Integrated College to reinforce their need to comply with regulations, not just in relation to the acquisition of the site, but with other statutory approval processes that relate to the construction of the building. As the Board still owns the property, any use of the unapproved building may place a health and safety risk to pupils, staff and the public.”

Local MLAs Nelson McCausland and Alban Maginness have called on all parties to find a solution to the issue as soon as possible.