School that raised millions

14th November 1997 at 00:00
Headteacher Chris Mason had a mountain to climb: his comprehensive, Colefox School in Bridport, Dorset, had been built to house 650 pupils, but already held 900. Numbers were expected to reach 1,050 by the millennium.

When repairs over the next ten years were assessed at Pounds 2.5m, it was decided that building a new school would be the better option. A new school would have cost Pounds 10.5m however - and when local reorganisation left Dorset with severely reduced funds, it began to look like a lost cause.

But then a local councillor, Trevor Jones, suggested they investigate the much touted Private Finance Initiative - and after many months of negotiations, by the end of last month a contract was about to be signed with Jarvis PLC, a construction company.

Mr Mason expects work to begin this month and to have a whole brand new school by the summer of 1999. And as part of the deal with the local authority and the school, Jarvis PLC will maintain the school, running school meals and an information technology system, for the next 30 years.

"It's going to be wonderful," says Mr Mason. "Jarvis are entering into this with enormous enthusiasm."

This is no one-off deal: Jarvis are going to be working hand in hand with the school for the next 30 years, and potentially beyond. The company is going to provide an on-site information technology expert, and even considered directly employing school office staff and librarians, although Mr Mason decided he would prefer to retain them under direct school control.

And as Jarvis wishes to maximise income from the site by attracting members of the community and perhaps local businesses, there could be more benefits to come, with any funds generated to be shared with the school.

Of course, it comes at a price: the local authority will be making annual payments for the building and its upkeep for the next 30 years. But Mr Mason is delighted.

"The authority now knows what the school will cost it over 30 years," he says. "If the roof is blown off the responsibility for dealing with it will lie with Jarvis. And it means we can concentrate on what we're here for: educating children."

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