Academy plans on knife edge

STEVE DOWNES The bid to open Norfolk's first academy in its £20m new buildings by September 2010 is on a knife edge because of a "critically tight" timeframe, it was revealed last night.

STEVE DOWNES

The bid to open Norfolk's first academy in its £20m new buildings by September 2010 is on a knife edge because of a "critically tight" timeframe, it was revealed last night.

And the cost of getting planning permission and selecting a builder for the school - the Open Academy in north Norwich - has steepled because the government has gone back on a promise to put up two-thirds of the cash.

Norfolk County Council is on the last lap as it finalises its controversial plan to demolish the existing Heartsease High and replace it with the academy, sponsored by entrepreneur Graham Dacre and the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James.

A report to Monday's cabinet sets out a host of hurdles that need to be cleared if the academy is to open in the new buildings on time.

If they are not cleared, all of the pupils would have to be relocated for at least a term.

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The report asks members to approve the academy's outline business case, which would then be sent to schools secretary Ed Balls for agreement.

A decision was made in October to post a notice to close the existing school. It was posted earlier this month, with the six-week notice period ending on December 14.

The results of the notice period

will be reported to cabinet on January 7, and the members will decide whether or not to go ahead with the closure.

The report says the plan is for the academy to open in existing buildings before transferring to the new buildings in September 2007.

But it adds that the target will only be achieved if all the deadlines are met - including approval of the outline business case on Monday, followed by agreement from the government, and the agreement to close Heartsease High.

It says: "To deliver the buildings within this timescale, design work needs to start in January 2008."

The process of selecting a contractor is also tight, with a shortlist of two bidders needed by January 2008. If all goes to plan, a preferred bidder will be selected next June, and a contract signed in February 2009.

The report acknowledges the process is "critically tight".

It adds that the estimated cost of the "procurement" process - selecting the bidder and getting planning consent for the academy - is £600,000.

"The Department for Children, Schools and Families originally said that £400,000 would be available through Partnerships for Schools for these costs, but the position is now that they are offering only £250,000 for a single academy proposal," the report says.

The council is still pressing for the £400,000, but looks likely to have to pay the extra £150,000.

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