There's a lot of information circulating in the press and on social media, regarding the Grove Park School building. We'll try and address each of these issues as we come across them.
Fact or Fiction?
The building is listed.
Update: Tuesday 29th November 2016: Mark Drakeford AM, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government annouced today that having reviewed all the evidence presented to him, the decision to list the building was the right one, and effectively immediately, granted the building Grade 2 Listed status. With this comes some conditions, such as requiring listed building consent to develop or demolish the building.
A previous request to list the building was made in 2007, and declined. However, this was before demolition of the more modern parts of the building, and a full evaluation of the historical importance of the school.
The building is dangerous (structurally un-sound).
No, the building is in remarkably good structural condition. There has been internal damage caused by vandalism, and some water damage by a leaking water tank. However, the roof slates and the brickwork is in excellent condition. An breakdown of costs to make the building watertight reveals that it won't require that much work.
There is an asbestos problem.
No. There was very little asbestos used in the building, because it pre-dates the time when the use of asbestos as an insulator and fire retardant was commonplace. There was far more asbestos in the more modern buildings on the site, but these have since been demolished. There was a full asbestos strip carried out in the 1980's, and any remnants of this strip are insignificant. The asbestos survey carried out in 2012 / 2013 was the same survey used by Coleg Cambria in their planning application. A copy of that report is here.
The contractor for the demolition carried out in 2013 state on their website that asbestos removal was correctly carried out, and that they issued Re-Occupation certificates. For reference, that stage of the demolition works cost £300K. Read their story on the M J Finnigan website here.
Whether the school is demolished, or refurbished, any remaining asbestos has to be dealt with. Therefore it is totally irrelevant, and should not have been mentioned on the agenda of the Executive Committee meeting in January 2016. Asbestos is a highly emotive word, and the use of it by those who don't fully understand the situation is reprehensible.
Update March 2016: We now understand that the cost of removing any remaining asbestos has fallen from £100K to £80K. As stated before, this work MUST be carried out regardless of what happens to the building.
Update August 2016: The removal of all remaining asbestos is complete. However, it raises questions about how seriously Wrexham Council took the risk to the public, because they have known about the presence of asbestos for a long time, and yet made almost no efforts to secure the building after it was vacated.
The building is unfit for use as a 21st Century School.
Untrue. The WAG 21st Century School Project and the former CABE (Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment) both acknowledge that refurbishing older buildings is a perfectly viable way to get a school suitable for the next generation. In fact, CABE states that older, refurbished buildings are often of better construction, and of more generous classroom size, than new build projects. Please see our 21st Century Schools page - coming soon. There are many excellent examples of recently refurbished schools that fit the criteria.
But it's cost £900K £1,000,000 to "mothball" "maintain" the school so far?
Another huge lie ! The £900K £1 million figure bandied about on a regular basis by Councillor Mark Pritchard, is in fact the total spend, INCLUDING the demolition and asbestos removal of the modern parts of the school back in 2012/2013. It also includes grounds maintenance and other costs which were incurred because the building was in use till 2013. The actual costs of repairs and maintenance, and security for the 10 years from 2005 till 2015 were £219601. During this time, the building was in use by several different organisations.
The actual figures are as follows (information taken from Council provided figures on Freedom of Information Request FOI5487):
|Total expenditure (from Council provided data)||£940070|
|less demolition costs (2012/2013)||£277753||£662317|
|less non-attributable costs (see analysis below)||£398951||£263366|
|less income from use of building||£43765||£219601|
Asbestos removal and demolition of modern science block in 2012/2013 : £277753 - charged as Capital Expenditure - so not paid from Education Budget.
Non-attributable costs (ie costs that would have been incurred regardless, or because the building was in use):
Grounds Maintenance £121579 + Utilities £237394 + Rates £39978 = £398951
Income from Ymlaen / Yale / Boxing Club = £43765
Update: Costs to remove the asbestos from the Grove Park School building were approximately £80,000 (reduced from the original £100,000 quote). Adding this to the £219,601 figure gives a total of £299,000. CCTV was also installed during the autumn of 2016, but we are still trying to find out the actual cost of doing this. There were no tenders on the Sell To Wales site for this work.
So - the building itself cost £300,000 over a ten year period in real terms. That figure is surprisingly small, and vastly different from the £1,000,000 that Councillor Mark Pritchard keeps quoting.
Councillor Mike Morris has stated that two storey buildings are unsuitable for primary school provision.
He did, at the Call In Meeting on February 3rd 2016 - although we're not sure why! Wrexham Council are themselves building a brand new two storey primary school at Gwenfro in Caia Park. This proves that some Councillors still don't fully understand the situation.
Save Our Heritage are just a group of ex-pupils who are too sentimental !
No - definitely not. In fact, most of the core group never even attended the school. However, we do share a love of Wrexham, and it's architecture. We can see that the only way that Wrexham can compete with its neighbours (Chester, Shrewsbury, Mold, Ruthin) is by becoming an attractive and interesting place. Sadly, building large, boring, out of town retail parks isn't the way forward. A vibrant and aesthetically pleasing town centre benefits everyone.
The Council needs planning permission to demolish the building.
Update: 29th November 2016. The Council will now require Listed Building Consent to demolish the building.
Untrue. As the owner of the building, the Council do not need planning permission to demolish it. However, they did submit a planning application which covers the method of demolition, which was subsequently granted. It's unlikely we can appeal this decision..
The Council have promised that a new school will be built on the site.
True - BUT - in 2008, Councilor Neil Rogers also promised that the building would not be demolished, and would stand as a tribute to the women of the early 20th century who fought for equal rights. Whats to stop the Council changing their minds in a few years time, and selling the site for another purpose? Council promises are meaningless, and should be disregarded at all costs.
Update: April 2016 - Apparently, Councillor Mark Pritchard has now stated that the Council will actually build two, or three, schools on the site. We would love to see the "back of a fag packet" plan for this arrangement ! How large would the car park need to be? How much would this cost? How will this affect the vehicles on Chester Road and Penymaes Avenue? How much playing field will be left for physical education? Will the three schools timeshare the field? How is this possible taking the covenants into consideration? Where will the money come from? When will the new schools be built? Has anyone applied for outline planning permission, or applied for funding yet?
There is a covenant on the site that restricts the use of the land for educational purposes only.
There are at least 2 covenants that directly burden the site. There are a further 3 covenants that affect the site to a lesser extent. The most important covenants were drawn up in 1906 and 1913. We have transcribed these covenants and they can be viewed here.
The 1906 covenant covers the land that the school itself is built on. It specifies that any school on this land should be for county secondary, or further technical education only. It does not state that a primary school can be built, or a faith based school.
The 1913 covenant covers the playing fields. This specifies that no permanent structure can be built on the playing fields, except for a pavilion, or a head teachers house.
Surely it will cost much more to refurbish this building, than to start again and build a brand new school from scratch?
No - not true. Whilst the ambitious plans that Coleg Cambria produced would have cost around £5 million, that included atrium areas covered with a glass roof. To refurbish this building for use as a school we estimate to be around £2.5 to £2.8 million. That's a lot less than £10 million that Wrexham Council are spending for new Hafod Y Wern and Gwenfro Primary Schools.
An almost identical building with similar levels of neglect is Templemore Avenue School in Belfast. This school was refurbished in conjunction with the Princes Regeneration Trust back in 2012, and it only cost £2.8 million to bring it up to current standards. You can see the similarities between Templemore Avenue and Grove Park School by visiting the Princes Regeneration Trust website here.
Council members must know what they are doing. They are experts in their field.
No - the Council are just ordinary people who are voted into office by the public. They have no formal training in planning matters, conservation, history, or even education for that matter. They are given advice prior to each meeting by Council officers, who are paid employees of Wrexham County Borough Council. In fact, if you take the time to read the minutes of each Executive Board meeting, you'll note that after each agenda item, there is text in bold which "Recommends" to the board, what course of action the Officers of the Council would prefer. This indicates that the Board doesn't really think for itself, and merely approves items based on the "recommendations" they receive from paid Council officers.
We're planning to analyse a years worth of Executive Board meetings, to see how they voted on each item, and note how many times they actually decided against following the recommendations they have been given. We'll let you know the results when we have them.