The official opening of the new £20m Castle Tower School took place on Wednesday 27 June when education officials and special guests joined staff and pupils at the Ballymena special school to mark the occasion.
Department of Education Permanent Secretary Derek Baker performed the official opening as Principal Raymond McFeeters and Board of Governors Vice-Chairperson Wilson Burns welcomed guests including former ministers John O’Dowd and Peter Weir.
The building, which was a winner in the 2018 RIBA Architectural Awards, boasts specialist features such as a hydrotherapy pool, sensory courtyards and rooms, play facilities and a full height climbing wall. Specialist home economics kitchens, science labs and art rooms sit alongside a college-style lecture theatre, social areas and music room.
“The building is testament to the importance we place on our young people. Throughout their educational journey from three years old to 19 years old, the pupils of Castle Tower School will be stimulated, challenged, nurtured and motivated,” said Mr McFeeters.
“At Castle Tower we aim not only to educate but to prepare our pupils for life outside school, to build skills and to develop young citizens. The new building can transform how we do that. It can help challenge perceptions around special schools and their pupils, and allow us to develop creative teaching and learning strategies for young people with special educational needs.”
Education Authority Chairperson Sharon O’Connor was guest speaker at the official opening and held up Castle Tower as “a wonderful model for special needs education” in Northern Ireland.
“With careful planning and design involving the school community, including the pupils, Castle Tower allows for a seamless progression from nursery, through primary and then post-primary education,” said Ms O’Connor.
“One of the key objectives of the Education Authority is the provision of a modern, fit for purpose schools estate, capable of delivering for all our young people. Throughout the region, various pathways and models exist for pupils with special educational needs to progress through their school career.
“Castle Tower School provides that pathway on a single campus, ensuring minimal disruption for pupils and families along the school journey. It is a wonderful model for special needs education.”
The new build was funded by the Department of Education and designed by Isherwood and Ellis architects. Contractors Felix O’Hare Ltd commenced building work in November 2014.