FOUR new schools in Monmouthshire will help turn the county into “an international centre for excellence” in education, according to plans to complete half the buildings by 2016.
The architect in charge of replacing high schools in Monmouth, Caldicot, Chepstow and Abergavenny hopes to keep temporary accommodation — such as demountable classrooms — and disruption to a minimum during the construction phase.
Sarah McGuinness, chief officer for education, said these schools would be the most up-to-date in the UK while cabinet member for education Councillor Liz Hacket-Pain said this would probably be the biggest project the council will ever work on.
The new buildings are part of a multi-million-pound plan to bring the county’s ageing school buildings up to date and fit for 21st-century learning, Monmouthshire council said.
The authority’s education department is currently in special measures with Estyn.
Phase one, running from 2013 to 2018, involves £81.5 million investment, half from Monmouthshire council and half from the Welsh Government, to replace Monmouth comprehensive and Caldicot schools on their existing sites and build a new £4.7 million Raglan VC Primary School.
The cluster primary schools surrounding Monmouth and Caldicot will also share in £36.9 million and £34.9 million respectively.
Simon Kneafsey, architect and programme manager for 21st Century Schools, told the Argus that construction firm Interserve is confirmed as the builder for the project, which is currently at week 14 and on schedule.
Planning applications will go before members in August with a view to starting on site in January or February next year, and finishing both three-storey schools by 2016.
“We are confident we can deliver,” said Mr Kneafsey, adding that they have already spoken to every pupil at Monmouth school to get their views, and that the new Caldicot school will be a “catalyst” for development as part of the regeneration of the town.
The new Monmouth Comprehensive School, whose existing buildings are on a flood plain, would have a piazza and a library at the front of the building with staff parking moved to the top northern edge of the site.
As much of the work as possible would be commissioned from local companies and Interserve will meet businesses during an open day, he said.
The new schools would be checked annually to make sure they are being used effectively and Caldicot would be used partly as a training base for graduate teachers.
During construction, both schools might alter their school day to prevent pupils’ studies being interrupted.
Cllr Hacket-Pain said this plan had been in the making for at least 12 years while members had been waiting for capital grant funding to become available.
It is anticipated that Welsh Government would release the next tranche of funding to build new schools on the sites of King Henry VIII and Chepstow high schools by around 2017/18.
“This is not a panacea,” said Cllr Hacket-Pain in reference to new schools influencing education standards. “You need all the teachers on board and ensure you’ve got good teachers.”
Mr Kneafsey said: “You can’t deconstruct a school and throw everything away and start again.
“By engaging with them from the start they as a team are developing [the plan].”