DESPITE work at three Enniskillen schools being on hold for this coming year, staff and pupils at Willowbridge School for children with special needs will see their site transformed over the next 18 months.
Today (Wednesday) Education Minister John O’Dowd will cut a sod at the school to signal the start of work on a £4m project on the 2,064sq m site, which will revolutionise education at Willowbridge. The old Erne building, known as the Edwards building will be completely demolished, while an extension is to be built on to the existing Elmbrook building, known at the school as the Lendrum building, along with external works. It is also hoped that some of the brick work from the old Gloucester House will be retained in the new build.
The work will not only replace all classrooms at the school, it will ensure that for the first time, the entire school will be under the one roof. Disruption though will be kept to a minimum, with staff and pupils able to remain on site during construction.
Principal Julie Murphy is delighted with the developments and believes the project will make a “tremendous difference” to those at the school.
“It will mean a better equality of provision, because the classrooms in the old Elmbrook building are much more spacious, brighter, you know much more fit for purpose for the type of children we have here. The old Erne building wasn’t built for children so classrooms are smaller, they’re darker, there are not enough nooks and crannies and things like that.
“It will mean for the first time the whole school will all be under roof, which people think is a minor thing, but it means for the first time we will have one staff room, because at the minute we have two. If the children are using facilities they won’t have to cross in the rain or cold.
“All those type of things make a big difference. It will just finally cement the whole amalgamation process and form a better togetherness. I think it will make a tremendous difference to us.”
She continued: “It will be a wonderful period of time, because all this machinery and all these different work men will be on site and our children will be able to be immersed in all that, be part of that and see it all grow, develop and change. I’m sure teachers will be doing construction as a topic now, because there will be so much work going on. It will be very exciting for the children to be a part of that.”
Willowbridge was one of the fortunate schools in the county as works at Mount Lourdes Grammar School, St Michael’s College and Erne Integrated College have all been shelved for this year due to budget constraints. Ms Murphy admitted that she too had fears work at Willowbridge could fall victim to the cuts.
“We were very sorry for the schools that are missing out because we would have been devastated so I can only imagine they’re feeling the same.”
She added: “It is just a real privilege to be there at the very start and to be part of planning and all of that and to be able to see it all as it finishes. I’m quite honoured to be allowed to be part of that and bring it forward and to try and make provision for special education in Fermanagh the best it can be.”
Work on the project is due to start in the coming months and should take roughly 18 months to complete. The architect for the project is Robinson McIlwaine, Belfast.
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