EXCLUSIVE - MARLBOROUGH'S NEW PRIMARY SCHOOL - Part one: Planned sale of St Peter's School to a developer will help reduce private finance funding
According to documents seen by Marlborough News Online, St Peter's School, on The Parade, will be sold to a developer to help fund the building of Marlborough's new primary school for the combined St Peter's Junior and St Mary's Infants schools.
In their application to the government, Wiltshire Council says St Peter's School is "...in a prominent position in the town and would command a high market value for either residential or commercial development." They say its sale 'will substantially reduce the funding envelope' for the new school.
Both St Mary's and St Peter's are voluntary controlled Church of England schools and as such the land and buildings will be owned by the Salisbury Diocese.
Marlborough News Online understands that it is quite normal for a vacated school of this type to be sold to help pay for new school buildings. But this news will disappoint those who thought the school building could make a prize asset for the town as a community hub.
The new school will be sufficiently large and have enough facilities for 420 pupils. There were 298 pupils in the two schools when the application for the new school was submitted.
It was already known that the school was to be funded through a private finance initiative agreement - and that Wiltshire Council had put £466,000 towards its cost to ensure the new school was a single storey building (more about this in Part 2 of our report.)
The new school will have to provide 'revenue contributions' - that is money from the school's government funding - for the facilities management part of the PFI contract. This, as many hospital PFIs have shown, can be very costly and may not give a PFI school full control over cleaning and maintenance - and in some cases catering.
The planned sale of St Peter's - a Grade II listed building - is confirmed in documents about the project revealed by a Marlborough News Online Freedom of Information request to the Department for Education and its capital projects arm the Education Funding Agency.
Another part of the project's plan revealed in the documents is that there was a plan to sell part of the site behind George Lane (known as Van Diemans Land and owned by Wiltshire Council) to a developer for a new-build house. The proceeds from this sale would also go towards the school building. It is not clear whether this plan has since been dropped.
The documents provided to Marlborough News Online are heavily redacted to remove any mention of the full cost of the project (is that really commercially sensitive?) and the names of civil servants and Wiltshire Council officers. They have even blacked out the estimated future annual spends on maintenance if St Peter's continued as the junior school.
However various issues are now clear. For instance: the designs are to be 'standardised designs (subject to a limited amount of local choice, site constraints and planning requirements.)' How far this applies since the change to a single storey school will only become apparent when the planning application is lodged.
The application forms from Wiltshire Council to the 'Priority Schools Building Programme' also give us a new look at the current state of the two existing schools. Even if you aim off a little bit to allow for some exaggeration in support of the Council's desire to get the two schools replaced after such a long and tortuous process, the state of the schools is surprising.
The Council have rated both schools 'Poor' on building environment, health and safety and security, on the match of teaching spaces to the needs of the schools and on the buildings' layout and on 'sizes of teaching and other spaces'.
St Mary's (built in 1974) has 'poor levels of thermal insulation' and the classrooms do not meet the 2014 guidelines for primary schools. In addition, 'the building fabric is at the end of its design life and some is in poor condition' and the school has a number of temporary buildings that have become permanent.
The state of St Peter's is much worse - quite apart from the fact that a three storey building without a lift and with steep stairs is a totally inappropriate place for children with special needs and disabilities.
"Damp classrooms and offices are not conducive to good health and are disheartening. Display of children's work falls off the walls...redecoration to brighten the school...always needs redoing within three years due to the damp."
"A disproportionate amount of budget is spent on maintenance leaving less for direct educational projects that have an impact on outcomes for children...In high winds pupils are kept inside, or areas cordoned off, due to loose masonry and tiles..."
The current St Peter's building was opened in 1905 as a new co-educational grammar school - using the same site as the previous boys' grammar school.
The new, joint primary school is now, after a further short delay, to open in April 2017. With the build taking about a year from planning approval, the planning application process should begin before Christmas.
A planning application for a new Marlborough primary school under the Labour Government's Building Schools for the Future programme was lodged in February 2010 and granted by Wiltshire Council on 1 July 2010 - four days before Mr Gove killed the programme and 'suspended' the 715 school building schemes already in the pipeline.
Coming soon in Part Two: how the case for the single storey design was won