Governors at Woodlands Meed School in Burgess Hill ready to embrace challenges of college construction

Staff at a West Sussex special school hope to use the building of a new college as a learning opportunity for the children.

After years of waiting, work on Woodlands Meed College, in Burgess Hill, is due to start in a few week’s time after governors signed a Development Agreement with West Sussex County Council.

The students will find themselves being educated next to a building site for the coming months but, if all goes well, teachers aim to make good use of that time.

Marion Wilcock, chair of governors, said: “We are delighted that the school team have established a really good working relationship with ISG – the appointed contractors – and we are putting our trust in ISG to deliver the college.

“Discussions are already under way to try to ensure that the construction works can be used as a learning opportunity for students and  integrated into parts of the curriculum.”

Preparation for the new building has not been without its problems.

In the spring, governors asked the council to make more than 180 corrections to plans and documents – and during the October half-term the council issued an ultimatum telling them to sign the agreement or the college would not be built.

Ms Wilcock said: “The school team have fought long and hard to ensure that the college building meets the needs of our students.

“They have ensured that the teaching and therapy spaces meet the wide range of needs in a generic special school, and that facilities like the hydrotherapy pool and hoisting system will now be safe and fully accessible. 

“The building will meet the basic minimum standards of BB104 – the government design guide for accommodation in special need schools.

“The provision of appropriate teaching facilities means the college will now be able to deliver the full curriculum and at last the college will have proper specification hygiene rooms.”

Ms Wilcock said it would be ‘extremely challenging’ to run the school ‘within metres of a major construction site for two years’ but added: “The school will be doing everything possible to work with students and parents to ensure that disruption for the pupils is minimised as far as possible.”

The first stage of construction will take up some of the outdoor play space, but Ms Wilcock said Woodlands Meed was in discussions with neighbouring Birchwood Grove School about sharing some of their facilities.

As for the future, she added: “Woodlands Meed is recognised as an innovative leader in sharing their expertise to support special needs in locality mainstream schools through the Meeds Send Alliance, and successfully working with various agencies and employers to provide work skills and job opportunities for students and ex students through the Meeds Job Club.

“Proper facilities will enable this work to continue and develop.

“We look forward to a start on site at the earliest opportunity.”

Karen Dunn , Local Democracy Reporting Service