Long-awaited plans for a £27m landmark building for St Patrick’s Academy were unveiled on Thursday evening.
Launching the project, Dean Colum Curry described the state-of-the-art new school as heralding a ‘glorious, new future’ for the next generation of Dungannon pupils.
After 15 years of delays, false promises, and budget constraints, the move to the showcase building is long overdue.
Generations of pupils have trudged in all weathers amid the school’s warren of pre-fab buildings and temporary mobile classrooms, some of which date back to 1962 and have long exceeded their shelf life.
In fact, for the past two decades, more than half of all classes at the grammar school have been taught in mobile buildings.
The Academy’s staff and pupils might have been forgiven to think of themselves as second-class citizens, having to witness most of the town’s secondary schools moving into brand new accommodation while their own school plans remained mothballed.
Principal Fintan Donnelly described the official launch of the project as a huge milestone in the history of St Patrick’s, coming as it does on the 40th anniversary of the school’s move to its current location at Killymeal Road, Dungannon.
He praised staff and pupils for maintaining high levels of academic excellence in spite of the deprivations.
The lack of specialist facilities for sports, drama, and music had made it difficult for pupils to develop their talents, he said.
“This is a landmark scheme that will benefit the lives of thousands of pupils, their families and the community at large.
“The new school buildings will enable us to provide the very latest facilities for our pupils as well as creating a solid platform for us to further build on our current position at the heart of the educational, cultural and religious life of Tyrone.
“The new site will have five tennis courts, badminton courts, a dedicated assembly hall, as well as a sports hall, and specialist rooms for art, music, technology, drama and media studies.”
Highlights of the new building also include an internal courtyard which can be used for outdoor musical recitals, an enhanced library overlooking the courtyard, a new oratory, innovatively wide and spacious corridors, an extended dining area with a cathedral roof and a mezzanine floor, and bright, airy classrooms.
Although built to accommodate approximately 1320 pupils, the school will be designed to allow future expansion.
The wider Dungannon community will also be a winner with economic benefits of at least £89 million expected to flood into the district with the new building, as well as community access to the sports hall and playing fields.
Those attending the launch event had an opportunity to view a number of 3D photo realistic images and plans of the new school.
Martin Hare from project architects McAdam Design explained the rationale behind the design of the buildings whilst project manager James McAfee from EC Harris addressed the programming and phasing of the works.
Speaking to invited guests he said: “It has been a long road travelled starting with St Patrick’s College and the overall site redevelopment within which the new Academy will form the final crucial element.
“Over the last few years the unwavering support of the Trustees, Teachers and Parish have been instrumental in shaping the final designs and it has been a pleasure to work alongside so many dedicated individuals.”
James McAfee from EC Harris said: “The completion of the new St Patrick’s Academy will be the final piece in the jigsaw and will complete this ‘state of the art’ education campus in Dungannon. The project will also deliver a considerable improvement in the current traffic congestion for both schools and the wider community.
“Local job creation during construction, enhanced sports facilities, energy efficient and environmentally friendly buildings, and an end to teaching in temporary accommodation make this a win-win project on
Representatives from the Department of Education, the Board of Governors, the School Trustees as well as the local community were also in attendance.
Work is expected to get underway on the new school this autumn with the Academy’s pupils due to move to the new buildings in September 2017.
Mr Donnelly said St Patrick’s Academy is committed to working with its wide range of stakeholders to ensure the two year project is delivered with the minimum impact on pupils, parents, staff and its neighbours.
He added: “The new buildings will be constructed on a stand-alone site and themove will be en-masse. There will therefore be no disruption to the school pupils or timetable.”