An independent Lichfield councillor has insisted leisure facilities should not be lost to the community just to help a school become an academy.
The Friary School is hoping to take control of the outdoor sports pitch and sports hall in-house to allow it to generate an income from external bookings on the site.
But the move has left the future of Friary Grange Leisure Centre hanging in the balance, with the loss-making swimming pool unlikely to be sustainable if the other elements of the facility are lost to the school.
Cllr Jamie Checkland, Conservative member for Leomansley ward, told a meeting that the school “wanted its facilities back”, comments which were ultimately followed by his resignation from the governing body of The Friary School.
But Cllr Joanne Grange, independent member for Chadsmead ward, said the school should not be allowed to cherry-pick parts of the site at the expense of the local community.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone who isn’t behind the school and its desire to convert to an academy,” she said. “But what is at issue is which community facilities pass to the trust as part of the process.
“This is a choice, and at the moment, the wider feeling is that the choice that has been made about the split of these public assets is wrong.
“At some point during the process to convert, the public asset has been carved up into part that the academy wishes to take and part that will be left behind. I don’t know who has driven this allocation but this decision has been made as part of the academisation.
However, the consequence of this split is that the part that isn’t currently earmarked to go to the academy will be left in public ownership and it is this remaining part that has been deemed as ‘loss-making’, with the ‘profit-making’ element then becoming an income stream for the academy and not available to financially support the entire facility.
“The ultimate outcome of this split is that Lichfield District Council currently feels it is not able to financially support the remaining parts.
“The facilities do not belong to the school to ‘take back’ – they are public assets, belonging to all of us through the payment of tax, and whether these transfer to the new trust is a matter of choice for Staffordshire County Council which currently owns them.”
“They do belong to the school”
Cllr Checkland told the public meeting held prior to his departure from the governing body that it was unfair for the school to foot the bill.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
The Friary School headteacher Matt Allman said he believed the facilities would be run better by the school.
But Cllr Grange said the school needed to focus on what its primary role is.
“No-one is expecting the school to support or run the facility,” she said. “Indeed, schools should be for education rather than running and operating community facilities in my view.
“Equally, no-one is expecting the conversion to an academy to result in the wider community suffering the loss of the only public swimming pool in Lichfield city, and – whether we like it or not – this is currently the position.”