When the diggers arrived on site at Rossmar Special School in Limavady, it’s easy to see why students and staff were so excited.
In fact, Principal Brian McLaughlin said there was even a sense of disbelief last week.
Staff and students are getting the school they deserve.Brian McLaughlin
“Parents driving past called to ask if the work was really starting, ” he said.
“We’ve been talking about a new school for 10 years, and talking about the present planning phase for two years.
“Everyone is excited. When the diggers arrived on site last week they were all out getting pictures. They can’t believe it, ” said Mr. McLaughlin.
The Greysteel man said he feels a sense of relief that work “is finally starting”.
“It’s the culmination of years of work, and to see the diggers drive in and start work was massive. There was a true sense of relief that there’s no turning back.”
Mr. McLaughlin said the new build school will be “life changing” for staff and students.
“It’s giving these kids the facilities they deserve; moving them out of a dilapidated, not-fit-for-purpose building into a state-of-the-art new school.
“It’s life changing.”
It was the former education minister, John O’Dowd who gave the go-ahead for a new build for Rossmar back in June 2012.
Mr. O’Dowd had visited the school, heard from students and toured the buildings.
Mr. O’Dowd saw at first hand the difficulties posed by the steep concrete steps students with physical disabilities had to negotiate.
He saw how hard it was for some students with physical disabilities to open the heavy doors.
Mr. O’Dowd also heard about the problems the staff faced when teaching, such as leaking roofs.
“The students put it across much more eloquently than I ever could, ” he said.
It’s for that reason, Mr. McLaughlin paid tribute to his teaching staff for the job they do in sometimes challenging conditions.
“Of course, it will be nice to have new facilities, but I always say a school is not just about a building. It’s about the people within it, ” said Mr. McLaughlin.
The initial cost for the project was £8.3 million, however, that’s now increased to £9.178 million.
Phase 1 will see the construction of a new building for students who are educated in the pink building at the front of the school.
Once the new school is ready - scheduled for 2019 - they’ll join the rest of their school mates in the main building, and that building will be used by another educational agency.
Ironically, Mr. McLaughlin won’t be principal of Rossmar when the new build opens. He’ll be retired.
After 40 years in primary and post primary education in Derry and Limavady, and a stint in Africa, Mr. McLaughlin says it’s the right time to go.
“I’ll retire at the end of this year, ” he said.
“I got to see this started, see the diggers on the ground, and that’s fantastic. Staff and students are getting the school they deserve.”
Mr. McLaughlin added: “I’ll go happy.”