By Linda Tanner, Education Correspondent
PARENTS and children turned out in force in support of a £1 million revamp for a Westbury-on-Trym school.
Five to seven-year-olds from Elmlea Infant School paraded home-made banners outside the Council House last night and chanted “Support Elmlea” before sitting quietly alongside their mums and dads in the public gallery as planners considered a scheme for three new classrooms.
They joined in the rapturous applause when a city council planning committee unanimously approved a scheme to remodel the existing buildings and site the new blocks in an L-shape on a corner of the school field.
The go-ahead means work can be completed in time for the start of the new academic year in September.
Some of the 70-plus parents who attended told councillors that if they did not give the green light, 91 pupils – one year group – would have nowhere to go for their lessons.
This is because internal alterations have already begun at the 50-year-old school to address issues raised by a damning health and safety report in April.
Successive Ofsted reports have also criticised the substandard accommodation at the school, which was built to an open-plan design and subsequently divided, meaning classrooms are small and one has no natural light.
Inspectors said the school provided an outstanding standard of education in spite of the difficulties.
Head teacher Inge Fey told the committee: “It has become impossible to continue performing at this exceptionally high level while keeping our children safe and well cared for in a building that is substandard and was originally built for 180 children.”
She said staff, governors and parents had had two very difficult and challenging years, in which various options for a £4.5 million complete rebuild were discussed and ultimately dropped because of financial cutbacks.
This had had a significant impact on staff health and wellbeing but they remained “adamant that the school move forward and make the absolute best of this new opportunity for our children,” Mrs Fey said.
Reception class teacher Jon Friesner said: “It is very stressful and distracting for children and teachers to have to work in a thoroughfare and getting children in and out of the school at playtimes is very difficult to manage.
“Every day groups of children are taught on cloakroom floors and in stairwells because, simply, we do not have enough room. We manage because our children are fantastically well-behaved but it is not fair.” that they should have to learn to read and write on a cloakroom floor,’
Sam Rae was one of several parents who addressed the meeting. She said the plan involving portable buildings was : “I never anticipated that I would ever be campaigning for a Portakabin as the desired option for my child’s classrooms. But I and many others have come to realise that this is “the best solution to a difficult issue within current budgetary constraints”.
Council officer Sue Nolan stressed that the proposed new blocks would be permanent modular buildings, constructed off site. They were of high quality, expected to last 60 years and could be installed in six weeks.
The committee heard that a petition of 100 names had been received in support and of 167 representations made, 78 per cent were in favour.
Objectors were concerned about the site of the new buildings, loss of playing field, incorrect process being followed, and proximity to an electricity substation.
Green Party Councillor Tess Green said: “Speed is of the essence. We do need this school to be there in September.”