The mass movement of Education Authority staff from County Hall to the former Ballee High School site could mean the death knell for the only youth club in the area.
Three local representatives - Robin Swann, Paul Frew and Stephen Nicholl, a former vice chair of Ballee High’s Board of Govenrors - have expressed their growing concerns about the club following meetings with local parents.
Two weeks ago, the Ballymena Times reported that plans to move staff from County Hall were being considered
Paul Frew, the DUP assemblyman, says he has ‘caught wind’ of a plan to ‘evict’ children who use the Ballee Youth Club which has existed in the building for many years.
Mr. Frew said: “ I have been contacted by concerned parents and children who are extremely worried that the only youth club in the Ballee area will be closed down. This is simply to accommodate the mass movement of the Education Authority from County Hall to the old Ballee High school site.
“This is a preposterous idea filled with self indulgence on the part of decision makers. Why would they stop something that has been highly successful in giving up to 50 young people from Ballee the confidence to get on in the world?
Why would you not want the building to be used day and night?”
He continued: “I would add that this would be a good use of government property. The Ballee site in extensive, the building is of a good age and of good scale. I have no doubt that it could accommodate the office staff during the day with all their wants and needs and still continue with the youth club in what was the original community part of the building from its design.
“I have written to the Education Authority asking them to explain their motives and to ensure that they protect and serve the very young people that they are there to cater for. They need to reverse this nonsense decision now!”
North Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann fears that promises made when the school was closed may not be kept.
He said: “As a former Governor of Ballee Community High School, I and others fought to retain controlled post-primary education in Ballymena South. When the school closed we were assured that Youth provision would remain. Clearly those charged with Education in this area value a comfortable working environment above providing help and guidance to children living in social deprivation and who require more not less support. I have written to the Minister and the Education Authority to ask about their intentions though I suspect in the New Year we shall be presented with a meaningless consultation on a decision that has already been taken, just like the decision to close the school in the first place.”
Councillor Stephen Nicholl, former Vice Chair of the Board of Governors, commented: “With the establishment of the new councils the new powers of community planning came into force where government agencies were supposed to work together to agree on how services such as youth services would be delivered. Clearly the Education Authority didn’t get the memo.
“The fact that this proposal appears to be so far developed shows that the Authority relishes the ability to do what it likes far from the glaze of public scrutiny which had existed under the previous Education and Library Boards. The consultation that should be issued in the New Year should detail how youth provision in Ballymena South can be enhanced and developed.”
The Ballymena Times has sent a response request to the Education Authority.