Suffolk: Council could face massive bill to secure redundant schools

Cllr Adrian Osborne is talking about the cost of boarding up a school once the site has closed. Cllr

Cllr Adrian Osborne is talking about the cost of boarding up a school once the site has closed. Cllr Osborne is pictured at Uplands Middle School in Sudbury. - Credit: Archant

Suffolk County Council could be facing a massive bill to board up and secure redundant middle school buildings, if other uses cannot be found for them soon.

A spokesman for the authority told the EADT the cost of boarding up a single school to keep vandals out is around £40,000, and that figure increases if extra security is needed.

The council has already boarded up three empty schools in the county. But with 40 middle schools due to close for good on July 23 as part of the move to two-tier eduction, the council - which is looking to cut its budget by £24.9million this financial year - could be left with a security bill totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The council is considering a range of options for the school sites, including demolition of buildings prior to sale. However, demolition is not a cheap option with Babergh planners recently estimating the cost of demolishing a former factory in Great Cornard and preparing the site ready for redevelopment at £1.3 million.

The council is currently focussing on working with community groups to preserve some of the buildings where possible, according to the spokesman.

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In Sudbury, the future of Uplands Middle School building was discussed at a meeting this week, where town councillors were keen to see it retained for community use.

The charity Autism Anglia has expressed an interest in taking part of the building as a college and help centre, while the Ormiston Academies Trust has asked the county to donate the school sports fields for its neighbouring Ormiston Sudbury Academy. The trust would also consider pitching in with local charities interested in sharing the building.

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But the academy’s principal Caroline Wilson said paying running costs for the building could prove prohibitive. “The school building is in the middle of a residential area and if it is left empty, from a community point of view it could become a sitting duck,” she said. “My concern is that over the summer while it’s vacant, the people living in that area might be affected by vandalism.

“The council informed us that the upkeep on the building would be £100,000 per year so there are very few organisations that could find the money to maintain it in their own right.

“The council has to pay £40,000 to board up the school so we are keen to help the community come up with a workable plan before the cut-off date next month to prevent this from happening.”

Task group member Adrian Osborne criticised the county for leaving it “too late” to give communities a chance to put together feasible proposals to save their local schools from dereliction and ultimately the bulldozers.

He said: “The county has known for two years that the schools were going to close so I can’t see why they have left it so long before doing anything about it. Sudbury has dozens of organisations that could make good use of the Uplands building but we have been put in a position where we only have a small window of opportunity to act.” According to the county spokesman, the timescales have not been determined by the local authority. He said: “Securing Secretary of State permission to dispose of a school site can take months – especially if there’s potential interest in setting up a free school. And further consent is needed to dispose of playing fields.

“It would be a waste of people’s time and money to start engaging community groups before we have that level of certainty.”

He confirmed that the council was in talks with community groups over the future of Uplands Middle, adding: “We know that there is great potential and interest in Sudbury. We believe the timetable is appropriate but we can be flexible.”

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