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SHOCK plans to convert a Barbican Estate car park into a subterranean school for children as young as four have been met with anger from residents who described proposals as “bonkers”. Following a longstanding review of facilities, the hierarchy at the City...

SHOCK plans to convert a Barbican Estate car park into a subterranean school for children as young as four have been met with anger from residents who described proposals as “bonkers”.

Following a longstanding review of facilities, the hierarchy at the City of London School for Girls (COLSG) – bankrolled by the local authority – are exploring options to expand the £17,000-a-year preparatory education service currently on offer.

The prep school is 90-pupils strong, but an early-stage bid has been announced to increase capacity to 240 students, creating annual revenue predictions of £4.1million.

Officials fear COLSG’s limited number of places is restricting its ability to compete with bigger rival schools in the north of the Capital, and chiefs say the relocation of its preparatory services “would ensure the school’s continued success and ability to offer the best education as one of the top schools in the
country”.

But they face a showdown with furious residents, who stand to lose the Thomas More House car park if proposals make it through the school’s board of governors and the Barbican residents’ committee before planning bosses pass their verdict.

The proposed site is located just off Aldersgate Street and lies beneath COLSG’s all-weather playing surfaces. It has 150 parking bays occupied by at least 90 cars and serves a cluster of three connected blocks: Thomas More House, Seddon House and Mountjoy House.

Vehicles and cycle and baggage stores in situ would have to be moved to alternative car parks on the estate. To make the site ‘school-worthy’, the covered car park would be encased in a double-glazed wall.

There would be two outdoor play spaces but the rest of the school would be housed in a sealed underground chamber with artificial lighting and forced-air ventilation. A separate dining hall with kitchens would also be built under Mountjoy House.

But the announcement, made via the Barbican Estate Office’s weekly e-bulletin, has been met with a raft of objections and disbelief by residents, who described a converted car park as a wholly inappropriate place to house a school.

One resident, who wished not to be named for fear of reprisal, said: “It is absolutely bonkers.”

Child exposure to vehicle pollution from Aldersgate Street when using the limited play space; permanent loss of land to locals; and increased strain on the flow of localised traffic have all been mooted as reasons to trash the project.

Residents also believe that making the concession would set a dangerous precedent, with grievances aired at an Aldersgate Ward meeting on Monday evening.

“I went to the meeting and it was very full (90-100 people), the strength of feeling against this development was fierce,” said Deborah Lambkin, a resident of Thomas More House.

“There will be a huge resident force against this.”

The Barbican Estate Office statement finished: “The proposals are at a very early stage with the school currently exploring options, which are subject to approval and funding. If the decision is made to progress the proposals, the school is committed to consulting with neighbours and all other interested parties as the plans evolve. Further information on the consultation and wider programme will be provided shortly.”

A formal City of London statement said that any plans for the classrooms and facilities “will of course meet the relevant standards for lighting and ventilation for an educational environment”.

It added: “If the decision is made to go ahead, the school will consult with all interested parties as the plans evolve.”

Cover image by John Salmon (Creative Commons). 

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