New school for Mill Strand?

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Mill Strand in Portrush, has put forward a business case to Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council for a possible move to the Dunluce Centre site.

However, the proposal was put to one side by councillors at a meeting of Council in Coleraine last month.

Instead members agreed to put the case for the Dunluce Centre on hold, to see what other options might become available.

Skerries Boxing Club, which is based in Portrush, had also put forward a case to the Councilfor the use of the Centre, which closed in October 2013. 

At last month’s meeting of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Council officers stressed that both cases had been left open.

In an exclusive interview with The Coleraine Times this week, Mill Strand principal Philip Reid welcomed the Council’s decistion to include consideration of Mill Strand’s proposals in any future plans.

“Our school is at the centre of the community - the Dunluce Centre would be the ideal site for a new build which we desperately need”, said Mr Reid, in an interview.

“We are a community focused school, we use the beach weekly for outdoor learning, we use local businesses for extra-curricular activities, we embrace the whole community,”

Mill Strand Integrated School and Nursery opened in 1987 and was one of the first integrated primary schools in the Province. 

From very small beginnings, the school, which now has 211 pupils, has outgrown its current location at Portstewart Road.

Many of the pupils are taught in mobile classrooms and other parts of the school are in urgent need of repair. 

The school has no canteen, with school meals being provided by a local firm in a mobile classroom that has been changed into an eating area for the pupils.

Mr Reid explained: “We are carrying out temporary repairs under the Minor Works Scheme, but these are only sticking plaster solutions to bigger underlying problems in terms of location and accommodation.

“Despite these issues, our pupils are flourishing, they love school and they love learning.”

The Department of Education has recognised that the school’s current site is not suitable.

A recent visit by a delegation including a representatives from DENI and NICIE (Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education) stated that the Dunluce Centre Site would be an outstanding choice for a new school build.

Mr Reid further explained that the school’s nursery has been consistently oversubscribed; he says he has been unable to meet the current demand for integrated education in the Yriangle area and stated that a two class nursery would be needed to accommodate this.

“We need a bigger school to meet the growing demand for integrated education,” said the principal.

“The school is the only integrated primary school serving the three towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine and we are faced with having to turn families away.

“Public polls indicate that 70 to 80 percent of the population support integrated education, yet this area only accommodates 3.6 percent of primary aged children in an integrated setting. Integrated education works, we have 30 years of research showing this.

“The move to the Dunluce Centre site would also open up exciting opportunities to work in collaboration with other local schools and share facilities and activities with the whole community including local community bodies and sporting clubs.

“This is not just about Mill Strand Integrated School and Nursery, it is about regenerating the heart of Portrush, bringing people together and building for the long term sustainability of the town.”

The Department of Education said that the school was not on the list for a new build, and given uncertainties around the capital budget, it is not clear when the next major capital announcement will be made.

“Millstrand Integrated Primary School in Portrush has not been announced for a new build and given uncertainties around the capital budget, it is not clear when the next major capital announcement will be made.

“Officials from the Department met with the school in May to explain the position and also the protocol used for the selection of new build projects.

“The most recent protocol, which was used for the 2014 announcement and is available on the DE website, included a ‘gateway’ which excluded schools where uncertainty existed around the size of the school. As Millstrand has expressed a wish to expand they can only be considered for a new build when they prepare, publish and consult on a ‘Development Proposal’ which should be submitted to the Department for consideration by the Minister.

“Only when the Minister has made a decision on a proposal to expand and uncertainty around the size of the school is removed, could the school be considered for a new build in any future call for projects.”