Calderdale will get a new multi-million pound sixth form college based in the heart of Halifax after councillors agreed to provide key funding to get the ball rolling.
Councillors agreed last night (April 11) to release £2.5 million to back the scheme to develop a college at Northgate and the first students should be starting their courses there by September 2019.
Out-of-town specialist sixth form colleges such as Greenhead at Huddersfield, Rochdale and Burnley have seen a “brain drain” of students from traditional school sixth forms in Calderdale and the new project will provide them with a post-16 further education option without leaving the district as well boosting Calderdale’s economy.
The Northgate site consists of Northgate House, which is currently used as council offices, and the former Halifax Central Library and Archive, which has now moved next to the Piece Hall.
The larger sixth form centre will be more viable than traditional individual school-based equivalents and will enhance the curriculum range for students, something which has been a major factor in their decisions to study at out-of-town specialist sites.
Numbers are crucial to sixth form liability and earlier this year Calder High School at Mytholmroyd was the latest to scrap its sixth form due to a falling roll.
Council leader, Labour’s Coun Tim Swift (Town), recommended the cash be released to cover the cost of work which would need to be done whatever happened to the site in future.
“Much of this work will be required whatever the future use of this building and at the same time we can make progress,” he said.
Delaying the decision would also have had implications for the statutory duty of the council for school place provision.
The council’s Cabinet agreed to support the vision to refurbish the Northgate site as a mixed use development including the college but full council’s approval of cash was crucial to get work under way now if the target opening date is to be met.
The £2.5 million capital programme money will be used by the council to enter into the necessary contracts to progress the design and construction of the project.
Last October Cabinet resolved the sixth form college was the preferred option for the site and officers were instructed to work on proposals to integrate the college into a whole site solution.
A review earlier this year included investigation of alternative uses and final Cabinet approval is for mixed use including a sixth form college alongside other commercial or residential uses.
Agreements can also be entered into with the Halifax-based Trinity Multi Academy Trust and other related stakeholders with respect to the funding and operation of the sixth form college.
Leader of the opposition Conservative group, Coun Scott Benton (Brighouse) said that from an economic and educational perspective the college proposal should be supported – but it raised questions about the building’s former use.
And the debate at full Calderdale Council came with a twist when a late amendment tabled by Conservative councillors expressed concern about information given to councillors six years ago when controversial decisions were taken to close the former library building on the grounds it was not sound and was unfit for purpose.