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Farewell to 118 years of history as school staff plan summer move

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Park road farewell

The end of the academic year is busy for all schools but staff at St Ninian’s will be challenged more than most as they prepare to relocate students to a brand new building two miles down the road.

Years 7 and 8 – the school’s 11 to 13-year-olds – will vacate the overcrowded lower school building in Park Road, where children have been educated since Victorian times, for the £33.8 million school at Bemahague, Onchan.

They will be joined at Bemahague by Year 9, until now housed at upper school, meaning the whole of Key Stage 3 will be under one roof.

The new school has been many years in the planning and work started on site three years ago. Staff have been preparing for the move for some time and are leaving nothing to chance.

The new building and grounds are much larger than Park Road, so new fixtures and fittings have been essential.

But Andy Fox, Headteacher of St Ninian’s, says:  

'The project team and school have been mindful of the present financial climate so will ensure good use is made of perfectly useable resources. We’ll have a good blend of old and new that will help to enhance the new site and the experience the students have there'

Staff are busy packing all they can but, while autumn and spring term resources can be boxed up and moved, other items will be in use right until the bell goes for the final time.

Everything from skeletons in closets and lathes used for woodwork to large items of sports equipment and chemicals that need skilful handling will be moved. It will take 900 boxes to shift books and smaller items of equipment alone.

The bulk of the move will take place over the next six weeks and after students have started their summer holidays to ensure there’s no disruption to learning.

St Ninian’s breaks up on Tuesday 17 July and, for the remainder of that week, Works Division vans will shift everything from one site to another.

‘Staff will then unpack all the equipment that has been moved and ready classrooms for the first day of term,’

Mr Fox says.

‘How long this will take can’t be gauged until staff get on site and can work at it full time. Many staff will be coming in during their holidays to prepare for the students’ arrival in September, not least our premises staff – caretakers and cleaners – who will be working flat out during this period.

‘We recognise that the extra three days holiday could be difficult for families to ensure child care arrangements are in place,’

Mr Fox said.

‘As such, we have been working with Manx Sport and Recreation and will be announcing sports schemes our students can access from 18 to 20 July.’

Planning the move comes on top of normal teaching, marking, report writing, exam preparation, parents evenings and extra-curricular activities that staff must do, and Mr Fox is grateful for their help.

The school will continue to operate as a single school on a split site, as it does at present, but as it will no longer be walking distance between buildings, there will be close scrutiny of the day and any changes that may be required. Initially the timetable will remain the same but the school is prepared for any changes should these prove necessary.

‘While the majority of St Ninian’s 90 teachers will still work on both sites, more will spend the majority of their time at lower school than do at present,

Mr Fox explained.

‘Another 40 classroom support, administration and premises staff will be based at Bemahague. However, many staff will move between sites as the need arises.’

He said that while school life is going on as normal, students will also learn from the move.


As part of their course, Year 13 business studies students organised an event, attended by 140 ex-pupils, celebrating Park Road’s past. History students in Years 7 and 8 are researching the contents of a time capsule to be buried at the new school. Children in the last year of primary school will play a part in this when they move up to St Ninian’s in September.

A capsule buried at Park Road in 1994 to mark the building’s centenary will be moved and planted alongside the new one to ensure it is preserved.

Meanwhile, students will create artwork that will adorn the new school.

Past pupils have a final chance to say farewell to Park Road via tours running on 15, 22 and 29 June from 7pm. They cost £2.50.

At a ‘Tell Me About Park Road Day’ on Thursday 28 June, the public can come in and be interviewed by students about their school days and this valuable social history will be shared with the Manx Museum.

There will also be a street party at Park Road on its last Friday (13 July).

'We hope the community will come in to say farewell, not only to the school but to the generations of young people, who have been part of the area for more than 100 years'

 Mr Fox said.

The new school offers superb sports facilities, much improved classroom space, labs, drama, music and seminar rooms and an assembly hall that can become a 450-seater auditorium for shows. A nurture area and unit will include a hydrotherapy pool. Indoor ‘streets’ will provide space for students and staff to socialise in.

With its suburban setting, wide corridors, staircases and lifts, Bemahague will offer green space and access to all – neither of which Park Road affords.

Mr Fox says: 

'It will be an amazing improvement for all of those lucky enough to study and work in it.'

However, he will be misty eyed as he locks the doors to Park Road for the final time.

‘I will miss the quirky nature of the old building, the nooks and crannies produced by numerous piecemeal additions made to it,’ he says. ‘As an historian I have always found the old gaslights, still to be seen in parts of the building, and fireplaces to be of great interest.

‘The building has character and I think all who work in it, while they can see its shortcomings, develop a soft spot for it. One thing is certain – it has done the Isle of Man and Manx education proud over many years.’

In a book of memories about Park Road, one past pupil, visiting to say farewell, wrote of their old school experience: 'Just happy days with wonderful friends. Learning sprinkled with lots of fun.'

Mr Fox says:

'If we can achieve similar in the 21st century at Bemahague, we will very much be on the right track.'

To take part in any of the farewell events, contact the school office on +44 1624 648800.

The public will be invited to tour the new school to coincide with its formal opening.

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