The chair of governors says The Friary School wants its facilities back from the under-threat leisure centre in order to help it become an academy.
Lichfield District Council revealed last week that it had been served a 12-month notice on the joint user agreement at Friary Grange Leisure Centre by Staffordshire County Council.
The two authorities had been unable to reach agreement on new lease terms for public use of the facilities which would have supported plans for The Friary School to become an academy.
The chair of governors at the school, Cllr Jamie Checkland – who is also a Conservative member for the Leomansley ward on Lichfield District Council – told a public meeting last night (15th July) that it was not fair for the school to keep underpinning public access to a leisure centre.
“I’m a regular Friary Grange Leisure Centre user,” he said. “And I’ve been on the governing body of the school for around eight years.
“I became a councillor because I’m disappointed with the sports provision within Lichfield.
“I’ve been fighting on behalf of The Friary School to get a fair crack of the whip in relation to the facilities and the income that comes in to the school and the way in which the pool and other elements are managed.
“My priority is the children of the school. They are there to be educated and the money that comes into The Friary School should be used for their education.
“For a number of years now, because of the contract signed in 1971 – when it was just a sports centre – the county council was paying a third and the district council paying two thirds. In 1978 a pool was built on the side and the contract was not changed.
“As time has eroded the school has been picking up the county council bill. As it stands, around about £70,000 a year goes towards supporting the sports centre and school – that’s your pupils’ money.
“We gave notice that the school wanted their facilities back. They do belong to the school and they create an income. They were built by the county council as a sports centre and astro turf pitch as part of the school.”
Cllr Checkland was challenged on his view by the public meeting’s organiser, Caroline Fellows, who said the issue was not just about school pupils.
“I’ve got give kids,” she said. “Four have gone through the Friary and one is due to come up.
“It is all well and good saying you’re providing for The Friary School, but my kids aren’t at school all the time. They are about to break up for six weeks.
“But this time next year they won’t be able to use the facility or the pool.”
“It would be lovely if you were able to support me”
Cllr Checkland had campaigned for election to the district council in May on issues including health and wellbeing.
In a note seen by Lichfield Live which was sent by Cllr Checkland to parents via The Friary School’s PTA email group just days before the vote, he outlined his credentials and asked parents to vote for him.
He wrote: “I am standing for the Conservative party in the local elections.
“I would encourage everyone to use their vote as it is these councils [district and city] who make the decisions about your home area and the type of place you want Lichfield to be.
“My main drivers are health and wellbeing, sport and leisure, and clearly all issues around local young people.
“It would be lovely if you were able to support me.”
But in his comments to the meeting, Cllr Checkland hit back at residents who questioned how closing the swimming pool would impact on students at The Friary itself.
“Legally, there is no requirement for secondary schools to provide swimming,” he said.
“The reality is that it is a 40 year old building that has lacked investment.
“The priority for the school’s money is the children. We can bring in additional income through the sports centre and astro turf that will support renovation of those facilities which hasn’t happened previously.
“I can assure you that the sports centre and the astro turf will be open to the public for a smooth transition come the end of April.
“The bit we will not have control of is the swimming pool, while the gym is a district council facility.
“Yes, there’s obviously going to be a big impact in terms of cardio and physiotherapy and that needs to be taken account of. If there’s something we can do as a school then we will try to accommodate this.
“That’s why this is an open process.”