Work starts on technology institute

A BUILDING that was controversially closed five years ago is to undergo a £750,000 facelift before being re-launched as a high profile technology centre.

A BUILDING that was controversially closed five years ago is to undergo a £750,000 facelift before being re-launched as a high profile technology centre.

The old Ipswich Art School, in the town's High Street, will be reborn as the base for the Suffolk Institute of Technology (SIT) and is due to open its doors again in September.

It will play host to more than 200 students and over 100 computers – many state of the art – as well as offering basic training on a range of subjects.

The SIT will be funded by a £1.2 million grant from the Higher Education Council, secured after a successful bid by Suffolk College and its partner UEA.

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John Norman, director of estates for Suffolk College, said the SIT is one of just 18 new technology institutes across the country.

Work on renovating the old Art School is due to finish in early July, before the new institute is fitted out with a range of high technology learning tools.

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"It's basically a complete learning and innovation centre," Mr Norman said. "It will have the most innovative state of the art computer equipment that we can find.

"From a community point of view, it's absolutely excellent. It could perhaps be argued that the college has been a little disrespectful with that building by not using it over the last few years – we want to get it back into use for the community.

"It's an exciting time. I think it will do wonders for that end of the town – it will bring life back to that part of High Street."

The SIT was originally going to be created in an entirely new building – but a decision was made to move into the old art school so it would not jeopardise plans for a university in the town.

Mr Norman added: "It will have a learn direct centre – the sort of thing where you can go and learn the very basic side of computing.

"There will also be straight forward computer courses, mainly at a foundation degree level, and we've also got this innovation hope, where students can explore and develop the very latest computers and techniques.

"We're talking about students really pushing the boundaries. It's happening here already, but the students are constrained by the existing facilities and the limits of an old college."

Claire Avery, executive manager of SIT – which has satellite branches around the county – also spoke of her excitement at the project.

"What we are providing is, for example, a dedicated e-learning suite which will be open for drop-in access to the public," she said.

"We've also designed state of the art training rooms with PCs and interactive white boards to allow teaching professionals to use technology how they want to.

"There will be a multimedia content development suite – a place where people can develop e-learning materials.

"There will also be an innovation lab, as well as seminar and lecture facilities."

Miss Avery added: "One of the key things that we want to achieve is to bring together a range of communities.

"That's about students, people in work and businesses. It will really become a site for knowledge transfer – the more that we can integrate these communities, the more we can learn from each other.

"It's a huge opportunity to bring back an exciting building for the benefit of the community, and to form better links between business and education."

The old Ipswich Art School, which boasted Roxy Music co-founder Brian Eno and world-renowned Suffolk artist Maggi Hambling among its former pupils, was closed amid public outcry in 1999.

Ms Hambling later refused to accept an honorary degree from Suffolk College in protest at the closure of the building.

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