EDUCATION minister John O’Dowd has cut the first sod on a new £2m school for Straw near Draperstown.
Lucky St Columba’s Primary School is the last school to be constructed under the Department of Education’s current building programme.
Geraldine Regan, who has been principal for 20 years said she was ‘thrilled’.
“It has been a long road. We are very privileged and very lucky.”
The Education Minister said: “The start of this construction represents an investment of almost £2m by my department in the future of the children that attend St Columba’s Primary School.”
The new school, which can accommodate up to 175 pupils, will be built on a two-acre site close the current school. It will include a dining/sports hall, special needs room, resource areas, outdoor classroom, outdoor play ground and enclosed playground for key stage one pupils.
It is in stark contrast to the current St Columba’s, where pupils are taught in a school dating back to 1957, and five mobile classrooms which have been there for two decades. They also have no sports facilities.
Mrs Regan explained: “The conditions we are working in are awful. There are five mobile classrooms and a 0.6 acre site for 136 children — so it’s wonderful to be at that this stage.”
It has been nine years in the planning and many difficulties had to be overcome.
“Through no fault of our own there was hold-up after hold-up,” said Mrs Regan. “We were held up by funding, changes in Government, cutbacks, issues with water levels, site issues. There were many times when I thought there would not be a new school. I can’t believe this day has come.”
When funding was finally approved last August, graves put yet another obstacle in its way.
Initial construction plans required an old section of a graveyard to be removed to make way for a footpath, sparking opposition from some in the community who did not want to see the small number of graves exhumed.
The row was resolved when a new site was found in a neighbouring field which did not need access through the graveyard.
The new school is set to open its doors in September 2012.
The Education Minister was joined by local MP and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Patsy McGlone MLA, Monsignor Eamon Martin, St. Columba’s PS principal Geraldine Regan, CCMS deputy chief executive Gerry Lundy and representatives from the board of governors, architects.
Speaking at the ceremony, the Minister said: “The cutting of this first sod of a new build for St Columba’s Primary School is a great day for the village of Straw and its surrounding area.
“This school has been delivering education to the children of the parish of Ballinascreen for over 50 years and is an integral part of the community with strong links to the local people.”
He concluded: “I would like to congratulate everyone involved in ensuring that St Columba’s Primary School has reached this stage. I would also like to thank Reverend Colum Clerkin, Principal Geraldine Regan and the Board of Governors for the invite and wish you every success in the future.”
Gerry Lundy, Deputy Chief Executive for the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) said it ‘marks a significant milestone for St Columba’s Primary School’.
“The patience of the school community has been rewarded and they can look forward to having a flagship development for Draperstown.
“When complete, this new build will be a clear example of the Trustees commitment to providing high quality education provision for every pupil.
“This promises to deliver and innovative new building with the latest resources and equipment for pupils and staff and a resource that can be utilised by the whole community.”
The contractor for the project is FB McKee and Co Ltd.