Proposal for town first school to move into new complex at County Hall site

Plans for a state-of-the-art Morpeth First School on a new site have been unveiled today by Northumberland County Council.

Monday, 19th September 2016, 16:38 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th October 2016, 13:10 pm
One possible design for the new Morpeth First School that has been drawn up.

The £5.7million two-storey complex is expected to open its doors on the current County Hall site in Loansdean in September 2018.

But in response to the announcement, a Morpeth councillor has said it ‘raises more questions than it answers’.

The school in Goosehill was rated outstanding in its most recent Ofsted inspection and the new location is still within its current catchment area.

There will be a dedicated Early Years suite on the ground floor for nursery children alongside infants (Years 1 and 2), the juniors in Years 3 and 4 will be in their own section on the floor above and the whole building – including staff, catering and many other facilities – adds up to 2,360 sq m.

For the first time, the school’s pupils will have their own laid-out playing fields and the completed facilities will allow staff to offer an extended curriculum.

A statement from headteacher Elaine Reay and the governors of Morpeth First School welcomed the scheme, describing themselves as ‘delighted by Northumberland County Council’s commitment to the future of our school children’.

It adds: ‘We particularly welcome that the school will be at the front of the County Hall site.

‘There is no doubt that the educational facilities available in the proposed new build would be in the best interests of our pupils when compared to our current building and would extend our ability to provide inspirational learning opportunities.

‘We also welcome the proposed increase in outdoor space.’

In addition, the council says the site will contain hard and soft play areas as well as ‘ample parking’ with zones for parents dropping off their children.

The existing school at Goosehill is more than 100 years old. It is on a restricted site without playing fields and lacks the opportunity for expansion.

Coun Robert Arckless, cabinet member for children’s services at the county council, said: “I am thrilled about this exciting future for the children, parents and staff at Morpeth First School.

“The move will give them a well-located 21st century first school with room to expand the already outstanding curriculum – as well as playing fields that are key to fun and healthy school days.

“The council is committed to providing first-class education facilities across this great county, helping all students to make the most of their talents and hard work in the classroom and in further learning.

“I wish the Goosehill school the very best in finalising the plans and look forward to the new buildings opening in 2018.”

The new school is the first development announced for the County Hall site, which is being sold in preparation for the council leaving its current headquarters for a new building in Ashington.

Morpeth North county councillor David Bawn said: “This announcement predictably raises more questions than it answers.

“Will the new school represent an increase in first school places in the town and what are the plans for the current Goosehill site, as housing would be inappropriate there?

“The political timing of this announcement will not be lost on local residents. Tenders have just closed on the sale of the County Hall site and as far as we are aware the council’s cabinet has yet to make a decision on the bids, so the timing of this announcement is curious to say the least.”

Earlier council proposals for four Morpeth schools (King Edward VI School and Chantry and Newminster Middle Schools and Technology Colleges as well as Morpeth First School) and a leisure facility to be built at the site were scrapped as an agreement could not be reached with The Three Rivers Learning Trust and governors of the King Edward VI Foundation.

The authority’s Labour administration says the move to Ashington will save the council money in the long term, as it would be more expensive to refurbish or downsize the current premises.

Opponents believe it will be more expensive to move as the overall cost is likely to be ‘much higher than the original £32million figure’.