Concerns about progress of project for new college at Woodlands Meed school

Woodlands Meed School in Burgess Hill
Woodlands Meed School in Burgess Hill

Governors at Woodlands Meed School say they have been told that, unless work on a new college starts next month, it is unlikely to be finished in time for a September 2021 opening.

The special school, in Burgess Hill, has been waiting for years for a permanent college to be built at its Birchwood Grove Road site – which would allow youngsters to leave the current prefabricated set-up they currently occupy.

It is an arrangement which West Sussex County Council said was ‘not the best environment for the pupils or the most efficient way to run this school’.

The issue was not helped by a lack of money or the council’s decision to lease playing field land at the school’s nearby Chanctonbury Road site – which had originally been earmarked for the college – to a neighbouring academy.

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At a recent County Hall meeting, Richard Burrett, cabinet member for education and skills, said the council was ‘doing everything possible’ to ensure the college opened on time.

Bur Marion Wilcock, chairman of governors, said: “The governors have expressed their serious concern about the progress of this project.

“Governors were originally told that unless construction work started by October, it was unlikely that completion by September 2021 could be achieved. 

“In June a [county council] officer said he was ‘not sure that completion on September 2021 was now realistic’, but that he was ‘quite relaxed’ about not achieving this date.”

Governors said they had been ‘blocked’ from receiving information about the project for ‘nearly three months’.

In a presentation they gave earlier this month, staff, parents and carers were told: “The governors have repeatedly asked for information and updates on the project and in refusing to provide any information the response from a West Sussex County Council officer was: ‘May we remind you and the college this is a West Sussex County Council-led project and therefore we will conduct this project accordingly’, ‘We have worked with the college and we will continue to, but not on the college terms’.” 

By the end of this month, Mr Burrett is expected to approve money from the capital programme to allow the rebuilding and expansion project to proceed.

But there is very little confidence from governors that things will go as planned.

Mrs Wilcock said: “In accordance with good governance, the governors are making contingency plans for the risk that a suitable new building which meets the needs of the pupils is not proposed and/or cannot be delivered by September 2021.”

A council spokesman said: “The project team is currently reviewing design options for building the new college, in light of information from Sport England about mitigating any loss of recreational space and highways regarding access, which was not available at the time of the original feasibility study.

“We have kept college staff and governors informed on the progress of the project and upon completion of the review we will meet them again and update them accordingly.”