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Urgent talks over unfinished Newbury school

District councillors will discuss options to put a half-built primary school out to tender for a third time

Fiona Tomas

Fiona Tomas

fiona.tomas@newburynews.co.uk

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01635 886639

Urgent talks over unfinished Newbury school

AN urgent meeting will be held tonight (Thursday) to discuss how a new contractor can be appointed to finish a half-built primary school in Newbury.

West Berkshire Council is suggesting that the contract be tendered out for a third time.

Highwood Copse Primary School, located in the grounds of Newbury College, was meant to open this September in time for the new academic year.

But Dawnus – the Swansea-based construction company appointed by the council to build the school – entered into administration last month and immediately stopped work on the site.

The opening of the 210-place school – deemed as urgent to cope with growing pupil demand – will now be pushed back until 2020.

A special executive meeting has now been called to discuss how the stalled development can be continued and how to appoint a new contractor to complete the works in order to prevent deterioration of the partially-built school, and to avoid escalating costs.

Although it has 24-hour security, the council says the Highwood Copse site remains vulnerable in the absence of a new contractor.

According to a council agenda – released in advance of tonight’s meeting – the local authority has assessed a number of options and identified two contractors that have “substantial prior knowledge” of the Highwood Copse project, both of whom are believed to have been considered during the 2018 tendering process.

West Berkshire Council had originally planned to open the school in September 2018, but postponed it by a year  following “high increases” in build costs from contractor Kier – the company originally appointed to carry out the development.

As a result, the council put the project out for retender and appointed Dawnus.

It is proposed to complete the contractor selection process by mid-June, before physical works on the site begin in August, with the aim of completing the scheme by January 2020.

Part of the agenda reads: “The executive will ensure a new contractor is found as soon as possible, but via a process that still involves competition, thereby reasonably protecting council funding.”

Despite the risk of construction cost inflation, the council says that the situation is not an emergency, as prospective schoolchildren who had planned to enrol at Highwood Copse this September have “secured places” elsewhere.

The executive body – which comprises of senior district councillors – will need to a grant an exception to the West Berkshire Council’s Contract Rules of Procedure for the retendering process to formally begin.

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