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Youngsters write moving letters to planners
THERE’S jubilation at a West Dorset school after new plans for its fire-ravaged Victorian building have been approved – thanks in part to pupil power.
More than half the pupils wrote to West Dorset planners urging them to approve the plans which will see a new classroom in the roof space and a two-storey extension.
A ‘temporary’ 1970s classroom, well-past its sell-by date, will be removed.
It is hoped work on the £250,000 rebuilding project will begin in the next four to five weeks.
Head teacher Jean-Paul Draper said it was amazing the level of support shown to the school since fire ripped through the main Grade II listed building during the October half term in 2011.
He said: “It has all gone very smoothly and I think we have got everything we want.
“We will certainly be back in the new build for September.
“I want to thank all the people who helped and gave us support.
“All the children in Key Stage 2 formally wrote to West Dorset District Council saying how they were excited about the chance to have solar panels on the roof; the chance to get rid of the mobile classroom and having the whole school back in one building which, of course, hasn’t happened for many years.”
Although the fire was a catastrophe, the response has reinforced how much people care about the school, Mr Draper said.
He added: “Although we knew how much affection people had for the school it has just reassured everybody with the amount of support we have had from the village and the community.
“It has been amazing the number of people who ask me how it is going and what is happening next.
“We have had donations from here, there and everywhere.”
He said he was hoping to get as many people from the community as possible involved in the re-opening.
A disastrous blaze destroyed the Grade II listed main school room building which dates back to 1848, although some of it dates back to the 16th century – with some features taken from a medieval church in West Milton.
Mr Draper said it was good news to get approval as they had the money for the alterations from the Salisbury Diocese but risked losing it if the project didn’t start before the end of the financial year.
The proposals also include alterations to the existing toilets and a new two-storey rear extension would replace a single storey lean-to.
Blaze may have started with electrical fault
THE fire which destroyed the main Victorian building started in the early hours of October 24, 2011.
It is believed to have started with an electrical fault.
Firefighters from Bridport, Beaminster and Dorchester tackled the blaze – but only from the outside as it was deemed too unsafe to go in.
Crews saved the school’s computer server in a nearby extension but nothing could be done for the main building.
The operation was hampered by the village’s lack of fire-hydrants.
A fund was set up immediately to help pay for extras when the school was rebuilt.
Head Jean-Paul Draper had only been in post for a year when he was faced with the disaster.
Dr Graham Kings, Bishop of Sherborne, visited the school a month after the fire to deliver the encouraging message ‘opportunity out of disaster’.
Pupils were back at their lessons two weeks after the fire, using Powerstock Hut and equipment borrowed from other schools.