Potential offered by former school site cannot be a 'missed opportunity' - MLA

THE Education Authority (EA) says it is still considering an 'alternative educational use' for a former school site in the town.

The former Liskey Road base of Strabane Academy is vacant following the school's move to a new multi-million pound build on the Derry Road.

Diggers moved in earlier this year to demolish the school building, including the modular cabins, prompting speculation that the historic Milltown House and Gatehouse would also be razed to the ground.

It's close association with the renowned hymn-writer Cecil Frances Alexander, who composed classics such as ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful' and 'Once in Royal David's City', has lead to calls for the site to be protected and brought into community use.

An ambitious proposal by Strabane History Society and other interested parties to have the area transformed into a Heritage/Visitors Centre, has also been documented, while Derry City and Strabane District Council has previously passed a motion calling for the preservation of the historic site.

The motion called on council to support the History Society to develop a business plan in support of its vision for the site.

It also proposed to set up a working group, asked council to express an interest in pursuing a Community Asset Transfer of the site and for the authority to engage with the relevant government departments to assist with the funding of this.

West Tyrone SDLP MLA., Daniel McCrossan, pressed the Education Minister for an update on the site.

In her response to his written Assembly question, Michelle McIlveen remarked: £The former Strabane Academy property at Liskey Road, Strabane has been vacant since January 2020.

"The EA is currently considering the potential for alternative educational uses on the site. If no alternative educational use is identified, the EA will seek to declare the asset (or relevant part thereof) surplus to educational requirements and progress disposal in line with public sector disposal guidance.

"This could be for the entire site or specific surplus areas."

The Minister added that the EA has advised that the local council has been informed of their intentions "should no alternative educational uses for the site be identified."

Daniel McCrossan says the site should be put to community use even if that means only part of it.

“While it is welcome that some of the site will likely be retained for the Education Authority, there exists massive opportunities for the rest of the site to be put to community use," he commented.

“The former grammar site is extensive. It includes sports pitches and the Strabane Glen.

"The opportunities for investment here for outdoor recreation are limitless and I do believe that council should act on this.

“There exists an opportunity, for example, to develop the sporting facilities for the local area while also linking up Strabane Burn to the river walkway as a development project."

The West Tyrone MLA added: "Strabane town is massively lacking in terms of outdoor recreation and this site does present opportunities for council.

"There exists very little land that is in public ownership that could be developed. This therefore cannot be a missed opportunity.

"The SDLP has been and will continue to lobby both the EA and council to press for action and investment.”

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