Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Opening of new school delayed after discovery of subsidence

Opening of new school delayed after discovery of subsidence

THE opening of a new primary school building has been delayed after the discovery of subsidence at the site.

The Heights Primary School was due to move into its new home at Mapledurham Playing Fields, off Upper Woodcote Road, Caversham, on June 8 during the final weeks of the summer term.

However, the Department for Education has delayed the opening until the new academic year in September.

The decision was taken following the discovery of subsidence in the car park and early years play area, which only came to light when portable cabins used by the construction workers were removed.

The school has been based at a temporary facility in Gosbrook Road, Lower Caversham, since it opened in 2014.

An independent study has been commissioned to establish the reason for the subsidence but extensive groundworks may be required.

There have been also been delays in arranging the connection for the utilities on the site while progress on the development has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, which limited working hours.

The temporary closure of the access road has also affected the delivery of materials to the site.

Headteacher Karen Edwards said: “The school simply won’t be ready in time for us to move into on June 8. While it is disappointing, it is completely out of our hands.

“We can’t move the whole school into the building without it being habitable. The contractors — and nobody really — had been able to anticipate exactly what kind of additional delays covid would bring because things are changing all the time.

“It is disappointing for the children and staff but I’m especially sad for the year 6 children because they were founder reception children. We will still make their final weeks special.”

In a letter to parents, Mrs Edwards said it was “particularly distressing” to suffer the setback, having been given reassurance only four weeks earlier that the work by Kier Construction was on track.

She said: “We are all upset and very disappointed at this news but it does mean that not only will we be moving to a complete and fully functioning school but also that the surrounding works to Mapledurham playing fields should be completed by the time we open.”

Mrs Edwards, who was previously headteacher of Sacred Heart Primary School in Henley for seven years, added that it had been difficult trying to run the school at its temporary premises for much longer than the two years originally envisaged.

The school began with 75 pupils across reception and year one but now has about 350 children.

Councillor Isobel Ballsdon, a Mapledurham ward member on Reading Borough Council, said: “This is a huge disappointment for the children, families, staff and governing body who had been gearing themselves up to move in after half-term.

“It will also be a big disappointment to the residents who live by the temporary building off Gosbrook Road.

“The biggest shame will be for the year 6 children who will never get to experience being in the new permanent home. As the ward councillor, I am very sad for those children.

“There are also benefits in that the school will be fully functional when it does open in September and it gives people a little bit more time to work things through.

“Kier couldn’t be completely sure that all the [utilities] connections would be done on time and you can’t have children unable to use the toilets and wash their hands properly, particularly in light of the pandemic.

“Rather than leaving it to the last minute, the decision was taken last week.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The construction of the new site for Heights Primary School is delayed partly due to complexities resulting from the pandemic.

“The build is now approaching its final stages of completion and will benefit the community for many years.”

The building work began in March 2019 but was then delayed by the pandemic.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency, a government body, had offered £1.36million to improve leisure facilities on the playing fields in return for a lease on 1.2 acres of the 25 acres for the school.

The site was one of five originally considered by Reading Borough Council.

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