Today we had an important press release issued by Wokingham Borough Council with regards to the school. The release was massively full of spin, but the bottom line is that as a result of the delays caused to the school construction schedule by the additional contamination on the site found earlier in the summer, the council has chosen to open the school in September 2016 using the fall back option of adapting some of the existing army facilities on the site rather than opening the school in the first phase of the new school building. They have further said that the school will now be built in a single phase so the students will only move into the new school once it is complete rather than trying to build the second phase of the school when the first phase is already occupied.
We warmly welcome the council decision. The previous statements that a decision on the fall back would be made in January, whilst they left maximum opportunity for the council to save face and achieve their previously stated aim to get the school open in a brand new building in September 2016, left parents of potential students with a difficult decision. By choosing to opt for the fall back position now, that gives parents currently choosing a secondary school for their children a clear indication of where their children will be taught and allows them to decide with their eyes open. It also gives the council several months of additional time to adapt the army buildings and ensure they are properly prepared for their new role as a school.
Hopefully it also marks a change of attitude from the council. Given the schedule for the MoD handing over sections of the Garrison, attempting to clear and decontaminate the land and build a new school building in such a narrow window as to open for September 2016 was always going to be a challenge. Information we received about developments on other former MoD sites indicated that they were always problematic, and there were often unexpected discoveries. As the council and Crest Nicholson statements have both highlighted subsequent to the discovery of additional contamination there are always these kind of known unknowns when dealing with a site like this that has been in MoD hands for over a century. Sadly this knowledge was not reflected in the initial plans by the council. Given what we had been told we highlighted our concerns early and often in the face of unbridled optimism from the councillors. We were therefore pleased when under pressure the council finally put a fall back plan in place, despite surrounding the announcement in further comments about how unnecessary it was and expressing continuing confidence that the new school building would open as planned in September 2016. As this announcement has proved, when dealing with a site like the Garrison, the council should always have a back up plan.
Whilst we’re sure there will be disappointment that children will not be moving into a brand new building in September 2016 as previously promised by Wokingham Borough, the early council decision gives clarity for potential parents, and minimises disruption to their children’s education by putting them in established buildings needing comparatively small changes rather than rushing the build to achieve a grand opening, and trying to educate children whilst the rest of the school is built around them. The decision also makes the build significantly easier as by moving to a single construction phase the construction company will not have to plan around having young people in close proximity for large amounts of the build, and can properly secure the entire building site rather than trying to build one part without disrupting the other. It is a far better option and in the long term will hopefully ensure our community gets a much better built school rather than the rush job we could have had if the council had carried on with the initial plan.