High-profile entertainer David Meade has hailed the ‘incredible work’ which goes on at Banbridge’s Donard School as he declared its new £1million refurbishment and extension officially open.
The internationally-renowned mentalist from Rathfriland was the perfect choice to perform the official opening as his son George is a pupil and Mr Meade has been a significant fundraiser and advocate for Donard in recent years.
“We have seen an incredible transformation in our son since he came here and Donard is so much more than just a school. The classrooms are full of fun and love and the extra facilities can only help the dedicated staff do even better work,” he enthused.
“The staff are so friendly and everyone at Donard does all they can to make the lives of families better,” said David, while Education Authority Chief Executive Gavin Boyd described it as a ‘privilege’ to attend the event.
Their warm words were much appreciated by present Principal Edel Lavery, who was joined on the day by her predecessors Freda Wylie and Doris Scovell, who between them have headed up Donard since it opened more than half a century ago.
After thanking David Meade for his “tremendous support and commitment as an ambassador for our school, his significant fundraising and championing of Special Education”, Mrs Lavery spoke of the school’s great growth and development through the decades.
“Our former Principals Miss Scovell and Mrs Wylie can testify to this school’s transformation from humble beginnings in a church hall though until today when we’re officially celebrating the provision of additional accommodation and resourcing for a school of 105 pupils,” she said.
In his speech, Chair of Governors Jimmy Smyth alluded to “a very special day in the history of Donard School, which has been on this site since 2002 and can now continue to educate our pupils in modern and spacious accommodation with up-to-date technology and resourcing.
“In these times of great uncertainty in school finances, Donard extends its thanks to the Department of Education for funding the extension as part of the School Enhancement Programme.
“Through this, our school now has four additional classrooms with supporting accommodation such as hygiene facilities and sensory rooms, and a new dining hall with a quiet dining bay for pupils who find group dining a challenge.
“A number of additional resource rooms include updated staff facilities, a meeting room, extra storage and an ICT hub have been provided and newly-created playground for junior pupils.”
Both Mrs Lavery and Mr Smyth paid tribute to the efforts of EA officials, including architect Colin Bingham and clerk of works Robin Sloane, along with main contractor Woodvale Construction and others involved in various ways with the project.
“Building an extension in a working school isn’t easy but we are grateful to the site manager Mr Brennan and Mr Sloane for their efforts to get the job done with minimum disruption and appreciate the tolerance and respect shown for our school and its pupils at all times,” said Mr Smyth.
“The project was extensive and has made a huge difference to the pupils and the staff who go about their work with such care and commitment. There has been much change to our buildings and facilities but the effort of our staff is a constant strength.”
EA Chief Executive Mr Boyd also paid tribute to the good work which goes on within the school and remarked upon the transformation since he took part in the sod-cutting ceremony for this project with the then Education Minister John O’Dowd in January 2016.
“I have listened with great interest this morning to some of Donard School’s history and its growth and development over the years. The investment of some £1million here through the School Enhancement Programme has clearly had a transformative effect and the extensive work undertaken is already bringing benefits for all,” said Mr Boyd.
“The financial climate continues to be very challenging and resources remain scarce but we are indebted to the many great people working within the education sector who are exceptionally committed to doing their best for those in their care.
“EA’s vision, as set out in our first Strategic Plan, is to inspire, support and challenge all our children and young people to be the best that they can be, and that ethos is certainly reflected here at Donard.”
Noting the incredible continuity of leadership at Donard with just three Principals in 52 years, Mr Boyd declared it an honour to join Miss Scovell and Mrs Wylie in the ribbon-cutting ceremony before invited guests got a conducted tour of the school led by Mrs Lavery.