Self-help parents build a school

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The Independent Online
FORGET jumble sales and sponsored swims for a classroom computer. This summer holidays one group of parents are building their children a new school.

Tired of waiting for the present mouldy mobile classrooms at Sandling Primary School in Maidstone, Kent, to be replaced, parents moved in as term ended to start digging foundations. In three weeks' time, if all goes to plan, their children will have a new junior school of four classrooms.

Kent County Council, which is saving most of an estimated pounds 500,000 on the project, is delighted to support the self-help effort and hopes that other schools will follow suit.

The authority is providing the shell of the system-built classrooms at a cost of pounds 66,000. 'It is very much a shared project,' a spokesman said.

Fiona Dale, one of the parents, said that the children had challenged her and the parent teacher association to build them a school after failing to interest Anneka Rice, the television personality, in the project.

Mrs Dale, a nurse with a daughter, aged nine, and a son, aged five, at Sandling School, said: 'They can't even put work on the walls because they are so damp. They boil in summer and last winter the kids had to wear moonboots and gloves in the classrooms for three weeks.'

The Sandling infants are taught in a Sixties building, but the juniors have been waiting for years to have their mobile classrooms replaced. Once again the school missed out on the county's list of school capital projects despite a record pounds 24m budget so the parents decided to go it alone.

The parents are digging, painting, plumbing and carrying out electrical work, but they have also enlisted the help of local firms. Large national companies have offered earthmoving equipment and cranes, and a small Maidstone electrical company has provided pounds 3,000-worth of cables. A building firm is lending its apprentices to carry out plastering and joinery work.

Parents have been asked for help in kind or in labour, not cash. But Mrs Dale said that they hit problems with the foundations and now faced a pounds 4,500 bill for additional concrete. 'We may be the first school with a mortgage,' she laughed. She is determined to open the new school buildings on 8 September, although the council is more sceptical and is keeping the old mobile buildings on site until October.

There had been some muttering that the job was the responsibility of the local authority. But Mrs Dale said: 'It's better than having children sitting in mouldy classrooms for another two, three, four or more years.'

A council spokesman said that it had put aside pounds 50,000 for this sort of project this year, all of which had gone to Sandling. 'The idea of self-help is one we wanted to give support to. It was a first, but we want to encourage others to do it.'

Meanwhile Mrs Dale is still looking for for plumbers and electricians.