Finance Minister, Arlene Foster and the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness joined Education Minister John O’Dowd to see progress on the flagship shared education campus in Omagh.
The first school on site will be Arvalee School and Resource Centre and work is well underway. With facilities for over 175 pupils and staff, the new special school will have sensory rooms and hygiene and hoisting facilities, as well as bespoke teaching areas.
Ministers met with children from Arvalee School, who joined them in planting a tree beside their new state of the art school, due to open in September 2016.
Speaking at the event, Finance Minister, Arlene Foster said: “The importance of the Strule Shared Education Campus cannot be underestimated, not only in terms of education provision but also in improving good relations across Northern Ireland.
“The Strule Campus will be a catalyst for change. What is happening here is part of a much bigger picture. It is a fundamental piece of the jigsaw in building a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland and a vital component in the Executive’s vision of delivering a better more peaceful and prosperous society for all.
“Shared education offers our children and young people, from all communities and backgrounds, the opportunity to be educated together, building relationships that will last a lifetime. This project is further confirmation of the Executive’s commitment to promote greater shared education and improve the lives of our children and young people.
“Strule Shared Education Campus is leading and driving forward change in the community and more importantly, ensuring positive change for our future generations. I pay tribute to the hard work of all the schools involved in this project. They are all helping to build a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland.”
The deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “Strule Shared Education Campus Omagh will be a game changer for the education sector and ultimately the standard setter.
“The Strule campus will be accessible to everyone and improve and enrich the lives of the people and community it serves. I pay tribute to Arvalee School & Resource Centre, Christian Brothers Grammar School, Loreto Grammar School, Omagh Academy Grammar School, Omagh High School, and Sacred Heart College for their participation.
“Each school will retain their individuality and ethos whilst maximising the opportunities provided through collaboration and sharing. The means the widest range of subjects will be available to the students on site. Placing education strategically at the heart of the community means young people are connected through education which filters into the wider community. This will result in a huge social and educational dividend, promoting and enhancing community relations.
“We are truly determined to bring about the achievement of a genuinely shared future not just in Omagh but across the north. Through the Strule Shared Education Campus there will be greater tolerance, parity of esteem and mutual respect which will be the foundation of a new shared future. I wish Strule Shared Education Campus Omagh every success.”
The campus site, which runs close to the banks of the River Strule, was recently named Strule Shared Education Campus Omagh and is the first campus of its kind here.
Speaking during the site visit, Education Minister John O’Dowd said: “Since demolition work began in March, I am delighted to see the progress that has been made. Arvalee School is beginning to take shape and what were once virtual designs are now a reality with new steel and brick work now rising up again.
“I am particularly pleased that the first school on site is Arvalee, whose existing school building was badly damaged by fire in 2012. Arvalee pupils will have state of the art facilities to support their learning, as will the thousands set to join them on site in the years to come.
“The Strule Shared Education Campus provides the town of Omagh with a unique opportunity to lead the way in developing shared education facilities; facilities that can improve the educational outcomes for all the young people of the area. I believe it will serve as a model showing the way forward for other educational communities across the country. It is truly about putting pupils first and securing a shared educational, social and environmental future for our young people. I look forward to seeing the project progress and the completion of Arvalee School later next year.”
Arvalee School will be joined by five other local schools before the campus is complete in 2020. It will bring together around 4,000 pupils from local schools with representation from the controlled, maintained and voluntary sectors. Each of the schools will retain their individual identity and ethos whilst maximising the opportunities provided through collaboration and sharing.