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Long wait nearly over for Strabane Academy

THE long wait for a new school on one site is nearly over for Strabane Academy.
 
Principal, David Hampton, said this week that a “huge sense of anticipation” was growing around the school community as work progresses well on the £23 million new build on Derry Road, just behind the Academy’s existing junior campus (the former Strabane High School).
 
“If you just watch something as simple as our Facebook page, the number of likes and hits we get whenever we put up a new post with drone footage (of the new build). The community just goes wild,” he said.
 
With the state-of-the-art facilities starting to take shape, Mr Hampton said that the construction work is on schedule to be completed by this December, with the pupils moving in by January 2020 – which will be over eight years since the Academy first opened.
 
He said, “The kids can now physically see it. They look out the windows and see this big new building, they see the sports halls, they see the technology suites. Some of the stuff we’re getting is phenomenal.”
 
Formed when Strabane Grammar School and Strabane High School were amalgamated in September 2011, the Academy has operated on the former sites of the two old schools since then. 
 
While the junior school is located on Derry Road, the senior school is housed in the Grammar’s old building on the Liskey Road.
 
While Mr Hampton said there were some positives to operating on two campuses, he admitted that the biggest negative was the financial pressure it created.
 
“You’re duplicating everything, the costs of running the two sites essentially,” he said.
 
The principal said that, currently, the pupils in the junior school were losing out on the impact of the Sixth Form, by not having the older students in the same building to mentor them and show them good behaviour.
 
Mr Hampton claimed that, with the opening of the new school, Strabane Academy would be “getting our community back”.
 
“The community is here, but it’s two separate communities. It’s just bringing that together and getting the impact of the senior pupils with the junior pupils. 
 
“Having everyone on the same campus will be massive for us, in a school where there has been so much uncertainty,” he said.
 
While admitting that it had taken a long time to get to this stage, Mr Hampton said that it had been essential for the new school to be the “right fit” for their unique circumstances.
 
He said, “The new school had to have the facilities that suited us because we are quite unique. We are an all-ability grammar school and there’s such a breadth of curriculum to meet that.”
 
Looking back on his appointment as principal of the Academy, Mr Hampton said that, personally, it had been a challenging experience to oversee the merger of two schools with different sets of ethos and trying to bring them together.
 
“I didn’t mind the challenge. The challenge is less in the school, the challenge is out there. It’s external factors you can’t really control as much,” he said.
 
Over seven years later, it is a relief for him to see the plans for the new school building coming to fruition.
 
“You couldn’t buy what this is going to give us. The kids are buzzing. They are excited about the facilities and the opportunities that will bring. And being together. Just building that community,” he added. 
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The Strabane Chronicle is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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