The Minister stated that 28 schools in total across the province will benefit from a capital investment in the region of £794m, with “deliverability subject to the level of capital resources available to the Department towards the end of this decade and into the next.”
The seven schools across east Antrim and Newtownabbey included in the programme are Ballyclare High, Ballyclare Secondary, Belfast High School, Carrickfergus Academy, Edmund Rice College, Larne Grammar and Larne High School.
Making the announcement in the Assembly chamber today (Monday), the Minister added: “It is my intention that these projects would be taken through to construction. However, I should stress that authorisation to proceed to construction on any individual project will be based on the level of capital funding available at the point when a design is complete and all necessary approvals have been secured.
“These projects have been carefully selected in line with my Department’s strategy for capital investment, which continues to be shaped by the outworking of area planning and the delivery of a modern fit-for-purpose estate of viable and sustainable schools.”
Welcoming the inclusion of the four east Antrim schools, East Antrim DUP MLA David Hilditch said: “This is incredibly positive news for the staff, pupils and parents of Carrickfergus Academy, Belfast High School, Larne Grammar School and Larne High School. All four schools are integral to their local communities and are in dire need of investment.
“I am particularly pleased to see Carrickfergus Academy among the schools who are advancing to the planning stage, having been personally involved in the campaign for a new single-site school building for a number of years.
“Before the amalgamation of the previous Carrickfergus College and Downshire School local families were promised a new build on a single site for the new Carrickfergus Academy, yet here we are, years down the line, still operating on a split site which is completely unviable.
“Today marks an important step forward in the pursuit of a new build for Carrickfergus Academy, and of course the three other excellent schools in east Antrim.”
Echoing these sentiments, east Antrim party colleague Gordon Lyons MLA explained: “When I was first elected to the Assembly in 2016, I made improving educational provision one of my top priorities. Whilst a good education requires more than just a state of the art building, much of our school estate had deteriorated to the point where cold and damp were having a major impact on our children’s ability to learn.
“This investment will be transformational. New classrooms, sports facilities and an end to the split site at Carrickfergus Academy.
“I want to commend the leadership of the schools for working with us to achieve this outcome. Our pupils deserve the best facilities and this announcement represents a positive first step in that process.”
Commenting on the four east Antrim schools being included in today’s announcement, East Antrim UUP MLA John Stewart said: “On the face of it, this is very good news that four east Antrim secondary schools are named on a new list to move forward with a capital build investment plan.
“However, there is no concrete timescales for the much needed building works which are required at Belfast High School, Larne Grammar and Larne High and the new school build which is long overdue for Carrickfergus Academy.
“We know how long it takes from a school being named on a list to being shovel ready with a ring fenced budget- Islandmagee Primary School springs immediately to mind. I really hope that we do not see another long drawn out process where capital works is announced and then re announced several times before any actual work is carried out.”
Party colleague, East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs added: “It is welcome and long overdue that the four east Antrim schools have been prioritised by the Department of Education for capital works. Larne Grammar, Larne High and Belfast High School will all be in line to receive much needed funding to upgrade and improve facilities which will be to the benefit of pupils and the wider community.
“Carrickfergus Academy moves one step closer to the much needed single school site, following the amalgamation of Carrickfergus College and Downshire. A single site is something that I have lobbied for in recent years and it makes sense going forward, if we want our school estate to be sustainable and efficient.”
Welcoming the announcement, East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said: “I am glad to see a number of schools in east Antrim on the list of schools to benefit from this package.
“From personal experience of visiting these schools – and having long advocated for greater financial support for them – I know today’s announcement will be gratefully received.
“However, with such a large allocation of money, I am surprised more schools have not been included. I would like a guarantee from the Minister that the money exists and the buildings and refurbishments will be delivered.”
South Antrim DUP MLA Pam Cameron welcomed the inclusion of Ballyclare High and Ballyclare Secondary, stating: “These two schools are part of a successful group of 28 across Northern Ireland set to benefit from a capital investment in the region of £794 million.
“It is anticipated that the planning, design and development of these projects will take several years but this announcement will ensure their place in the steady pipeline of projects.”