PFI school's out for the last time

A BELFAST high school is to close today because it was perceived to be a mainly Protestant institution in a predominantly Catholic area, a former Lord Mayor said yesterday.

The private-finance initiative (PFI) Balmoral High School, which opened 12 years ago, is holding a special event to mark the closure.

The farewell open day for past pupils and friends will feature a display of photographs from the school’s life and also that of its two predecessor schools, Deramore High School and Larkfield High School.

Cllr Jim Rodgers, who is a member of the Belfast Education and Library Board, said the school closed because of perceptions of parents about the religious character of the area in which it is located – Black’s Road in Dunmurry.

“The numbers of pupils just didn’t happen and it is not viable to continue so we are actively looking for another tenant,” he said.

“Basically, the location caused difficulty for some parents because it was in an area which they perceived had a different religious character to that of their sons and daughters.”

Mr Rodgers said it had been the right decision to locate there at the time and that the board was looking for alternative tenants for the site, either in education or business.

He added that the cost to the taxpayer would not really differ with or without the premises in active use.

However, he said: “This is a major blow.”

He added: “Nobody likes to see a school closing. I remember the sod-cutting ceremony being carried out by David Trimble.”

A BELB spokesman said the annual payment for the school is approximately 370,000 which rises marginally each year.

“A use for the building has not yet been decided, but the Department of Education has commissioned a feasibility study and are still awaiting the outcome,” he added.

“Consultation has already taken place between board officers, staff and parents and the board is currently in discussions with the DE to decide on the future use of the building.”

There were 326 pupils on the roll when Balmoral HS opened in 2002 and that number was expected to grow, but in 2006-07 there were only 155 pupils. The potential enrolment was 500.

Most of the pupils will attend Dunmurry HS and all teachers who were seeking alternative employment have found jobs.

The school closes officially on August 31.

Today’s celebration takes place between 10am-2pm. All past pupils and friends of Balmoral HS and the Deramore and Larkfield schools are invited.