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Councillors support new multi million pound building for Merthyr Tydfil’s only special school

PLANS for a new multi million pound building for Merthyr Tydfil’s only special school have been given the backing of councillors.

Full council on Wednesday, March 8 approved the inclusion of a new building for Greenfield Special School in its update Sustainable Communities for Learning programme formerly known as the 21st Century Schools Programme, Band B).

The report said that an area of a suitable size has been highlighted as part of the Heartlands site which would also support the council’s plans to develop affordable housing and regenerate the site.

The report added that the council’s vision for the special school also includes development of the heritage building on the proposed site to potentially include a range of therapeutic, health and other services to support children with complex needs.

The estimated cost of the project would be £58.75m with £44.86m coming from Welsh Government and £13.88m from the council.

It will go through the Welsh Government business case process over the next three years and construction works could start in the 2026/2027 financial year with the aim of the building being ready by September 2028.

Funding of £300,000 has also been included in the council’s medium term financial plan for feasibility studies for the new Greenfield school in 2024/2025 and a statutory school organisation consultation will be done after these studies.

The matched funding for the project would be £13.58m including £3.78m in 2026/2027, £8.24m in 2027/2028 and £2.57m in 2028/2029.

The council report said that Greenfield Special School is the only special school in Merthyr and the building is currently oversubscribed with 175 pupils on roll.

Pupil numbers are projected to increase to more than 200 over the next three years and to around 225 longer term.

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The report said that the main school buildings originally accommodated up to 147 pupils and the additional numbers, as well as the increasing complexity of pupils, is putting significant additional pressure on the current teaching and learning environment within the school.

It added that measures have been taken over a number of years to increase capacity at the school with internal changes in 2015 and 2016 and demountable classrooms.

There are currently three on site, two of which are in a very poor condition and a new one which was put in in September 2021.

The adjacent Integrated Children’s Centre has been used since September 2015 with the council hiring two classrooms for permanent use by the school on an ongoing basis.

A new demountable classroom is planned for September 2023 and the council is looking to create off site provision for post-16 pupils ready for September 2024.

The report said that further discussions are ongoing with the school regarding managing pupil places to ensure sufficient places can be provided over the medium-term.

It added: “Greenfield’s current school building is in a poor condition and its overall suitability as a teaching and learning environment is also poor, with classrooms that are small in comparison to the building bulletin guidance.

“The building was not designed specifically for special school demands.

“Corridors in the school are narrow which impacts on pupils with large electric wheelchairs and there is little space available for the storage of specialist equipment such as standing frames.

“There is therefore a strong case for change to create a new build special school for Greenfield, fit to deliver education in a suitable environment and accommodate the needs of ALN pupils in Merthyr requiring special school provision over the long-term.”

The Greenfield project will be part of the programme from 2026/27 onwards after the completion of the current Band B projects which include a major refurbishment of Pen Y Dre High School, a new 3-16 voluntary aided new build catholic school called Blessed Carlo Acutis and a new building for Goetre Primary School.

The Sustainable Communities for Learning  is a long-term strategic capital investment programme in schools across Wales involving collaboration between Welsh Government, the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) councils, Diocesan authorities and further education colleges to improve education facilities.

Councillor Malcolm Colbran said that in 2017, shortly after being elected, he congratulated the school on the results of their Estyn report and he was then invited to visit the school.

He said some things struck him immediately including how happy the pupils were and the positive atmosphere throughout the school as well as how enthusiastic and proud of the school all the staff were.

But he also noticed the condition of the buildings and the unsuitability for a special school.

He was then appointed to the governing and last year became the chair working closely with the current headteacher who he said has continued to improve the school despite the problems caused by the unsuitability of the premises.

He said: “Greenfield pupils deserve a modern purpose built school for their needs” adding that many people have lobbied long and hard for a new build and thanked everyone involved for bringing this report to council.

Councillor Jeremy Davies said he welcomes this because Greenfield has been looking for a new school for a long time and they could so much that’s amazing for people with disabilities.

Councillor Gareth Lewis said the school has been part of the community of Pentrebach for almost 42 years and that he hopes it continues to thrive there until the new site and onwards into the future.

Councillor Anna Williams-Price said she’s seen the great work the school does for its own pupils and in engaging with the wider community.

She said although she’ll be sad to lose it from her ward, the pupils deserve a modern 21st Century school.

Councillor David Hughes said he looks forward to welcoming the children to Dowlais and that he hopes that they will have a long and fruitful time at that school.

The leader of the council Councillor Geraint Thomas welcomed this “great new addition to the borough” and said it’s long overdue and that it’ll be a fantastic environment for the children.

Councillor Brent Carter said the new school will be a “great asset” and Councillor Declan Sammon said: “The independent group made a tough decision tonight so that we would still be here and still in a position to bring forward positive outcomes for our residents such as this.”