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21st century inside, Victorian outside

A new infants school has been remodelled within its own shell.Ambitious plans mean half the area's secondaries will be rebuilt by 2015

Newport schools are undergoing a building bonanza, as the city ensures that the public sector takes its fair share of the pound;2 billion physical transformation of the area. And that means using every available source of income, public and private.

"At currently available rates of capital funding, some children in Newport would still be working in schools built at the beginning of the 20th century 150 years from now," says Graham Bingham, corporate director for children's services. "That's the equivalent of our children today learning in school buildings from the pre-industrial era."

"Interesting as living history," he comments, "but perhaps not well suited to contemporary education."

And then there's the city's predicted growth - 20 per cent over the next decade. This will more than negate the fall in the birth rate, he adds, although the effect will be uneven across the authority.

So building there must be. But the aim is not to devour green space or demolish well-loved buildings. Where possible, Newport uses brown-field sites. And its first big project, the pound;3m remodelling of St Andrews infants school meant creating a completely new school within the shell of a Victorian building.

Already near completion is the building of an integrated children's centre at Duffryn infants school, which should open shortly. And the new pound;7m Rogerstone primary school - replacing the old one destroyed by fire three years ago - opens in September. In line with the council's new policy, it incorporates many sustainable features, from maximum daylight and high insulation to the first sedum (planted) roof on a big school building in Wales.

But the future is even more exciting. Over the next 10 years, three large secondary schools with buildings dating from the 1950s and 1960s will be completely replaced by modern buildings.

"This is the most ambitious secondary school programme in Wales," says Mr Bingham, "and means that, by 2015, half the authority's secondary schools will have been built this century."

Newport will also continue to improve its primary schools. It expects to build at least two new ones to meet the needs of new housing developments, as well as two replacements for Victorian junior and infant schools funded by private-finance initiatives.

And how is all this to be funded?

"By using the maximum resources the National Assembly can provide and by an aggressive programme of asset disposals and development agreements with private sector developers," replies Mr Bingham.

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