THE first soil has turned as work starts on a new £31m shared campus for two Derry schools.
Foyle College will relocate from its existing building on the Northland Road to the new site on the Limavady Road in the Waterside area of the city.
Ebrington Primary School will also move from its present location at Lapwing Way.
Sinn Fein Education Minister John O’Dowd visited the site yesterday to cut the first sod. Building work on the shared site is due for completion in 2017.
Foyle College has been in the process of acquiring a new home for the past 20 years.
There had been fears over the future of the plans due to cuts in the education budget.
Robin Young, from the school’s board of governors, said it was a relief to finally get the project underway.
“We looked at various sites but this was one in the heart of the Waterside, easily accessible and brings everything together on one site.
“Foyle College is 400 years old in 2017 so that will certainly be a big year for us and to open the new school in that year is a tremendous thing.
“To have a close association to one of our main feeder primary schools is very important to us also with benefits to the pupils of both schools.”
Up to 1,400 pupils are expected to attend across the two schools.
Ebrington Primary School principal Nigel Dougherty said the new building would be a far cry from running around catching rain water in buckets.
“I’m very very excited this morning and I just can’t believe how big the site is. I think we wrote our first letter in 2002 so 13 years have past so it’s fantastic that this day has finally arrived.
“Any building that’s 60 years old will have problems and we had our leaks and we had our buckets and that’s probably one of the reasons why this new school was so much needed.
“The co-location plans probably did hold us back a little bit, but that was just to ensure that everybody got what they needed from the site.”
Minister John O’Dowd said it was an exciting period for both schools.
“The start of construction work on this site represents an investment of over £31m by my department and this financial input will have a major impact on the schools and the community and create many positive outcomes for both.
“I have no doubt the new facilities will enhance the learning experience and ensure that both schools are well equipped to deliver the curriculum for now and for future generations to come.”
The first phase of the project, which includes the primary school and energy centre, is due to be completed by next September.
The school will include two moderate learning difficulties speech and language units and a double nursery.
The second phase is anticipated to complete in 2017 and will comprise of a new build for 850 pupils, including new teaching accommodation, grass pitches, synthetic tennis courts and a 3G pitch.
In conclusion the Minister said: “This is an exciting period for all the pupils and staff from both schools. ”
“Improving the schools’ estate remains a key priority for me and I will seek additional funds to ensure that this area of work continues to get the attention it deserves.”