Ballymena’s new Castle Tower School could be the biggest special school in the UK, its principal Raymond McFeeters has said.
He was speaking to the Times this week in the wake of a meeting on the site for the new school - the grounds of the old Boys’ and Girls’ Intermediate, where he and members of the Board of Governors met with an architect.
“We got the final approval at the end of August which means it’s definitely happening,” said Mr McFeeters.
“We have been working with the architect from the design team for the last five weeks and we’ve visited new build schools to get ideas.
“We’re at the stage now where we are looking at the design concept. Then it will go to initial drawings and then specifications, which will go to the Department of Education to be put out to tender.”
As for timescale, he said he understood the design stage could take from 12-18 months and building work 18-24 months.
“According to the Economic Appraisal, the school is likely to be completed by December 2016 with us moving into the school by January, 2017,” said Mr McFeeters who said he believed the new Castle Tower to be the biggest capital project ever undertaken by the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB).
“The designers have said it could be the biggest special school in the UK and certainly in Ireland - as far as I know there is nothing else of this scale. It’s very exciting but we want to get it right,” said Mr McFeeters.
The Castle Tower principal said the school and the governors have been keen to be engaged from the outset of the process and that they want to involve the children too.
“It would be great to get some ideas from the pupils themselves of what they want from their new school and we will be trying to do that next term,” he said.
Castle Tower was established in September, 2007, following the amalgamation of the three special schools in Ballymena - Dunfane, Beechgrove, and Loughan.
The new building at Trostan Avenue will bring all three under one roof.
Funding of £21.8million for the much needed new school was finally announced last June by Education Minister, John O’Dowd.
Until new accommodation is built, Dunfane and Beechgrove will continue to share a site at Frys Road.
Dunfane Campus caters for children with moderate learning difficulties in Key Stages 1 - 4 while Beechgrove caters for children with physical difficulties from pre-school to year 7, following which pupils transfer to another school or remain in another campus of Castle Tower for their post primary education.
Loughan Campus, situated at Old Ballymoney Road, caters for children with severe learning difficulties at both primary & post-primary level.
An NEELB spokesperson said: “We are hopeful the project will go according to plan.”