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New centre for vulnerable learners almost triples in cost due to inflation

14 Jun 2023 3 minute read
Pontllanfraith Comprehensive Visual: Credit: CCBC

Rhiannon James, local democracy reporter

The cost of a new centre for vulnerable learners has spiralled to £14.1 million, senior councillors in Caerphilly have been told.

Last January, Caerphilly County Borough Council predicted the development would cost £5.5 million, but at a cabinet meeting it was revealed that this had nearly tripled due to inflation.

The centre will be built on the former Pontllanfraith Comprehensive School and aims to provide “high quality learning opportunities” for children aged between 11 and 16.

On Wednesday June 14 senior councillors agreed to put an additional £2.2 million towards the project, bringing the council’s total contribution up to £3,525,739.

The additional funds will come from the council’s place-shaping reserve.

Welsh Government has been asked to fund the remainder of the development, at a cost of £10,577,218. The council expects to get confirmation of this next month.

Welsh Government had previously agreed to put £4,125,000 towards the project.

At the meeting, Cllr Philippa Leonard, cabinet member for planning, questioned why the costs had risen.

Andrea West, sustainable communities for learning manager at the council, said the building had deteriorated and needed more work than first expected, such as a new roof.

Planning committee members unanimously approved the development in March this year. The proposed scheme will accommodate between 80 and 120 pupils and is part of the Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools Programme.

Pontllanfraith Comprehensive closed in 2016 and merged with Oakdale Comprehensive to form Islwyn High School. Before being a comprehensive, it was Pontllanfraith Grammar Technical School.

Community use

Cabinet member for education, Carol Andrews said the facilities – including the cafe – will be available for wider community use.

Previous plans for this site have threatened the closure of Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre. However, the application for this development states the proposals are not a “replacement” for the existing leisure centre, but rather “additional facilities”.

What do the plans show?

The former grammar school section of the site will be refurbished and extended to provide ten teaching spaces, rooms for small groups, a meeting room, staff room, main hall, teaching kitchen and café.

Covered seating areas will also provide spaces for relaxation and outdoor teaching.

According to the plans, pupils will have the opportunity to gain experience by working in the teaching kitchen and café, in addition to growing fruit and vegetables in the garden area.

The sports hall will have four courts, changing rooms, and a staff office. The multi-use games area includes a 3G pitch.

The design and access statement says the sports hall building, outdoor games, main hall and café space will be made available for community use outside of school hours. It adds: “Secure screen doors across the main corridor allow the teaching areas to be secured to prevent public access.”

The site will be accessed off Penllwyn Lane and in total, 46 car parking spaces are proposed.

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