A WAR of words has erupted over demands by Huddersfield’s MP for an official inquiry into a controversial school.
Barry Sheerman wants the Audit Commission national watchdog to investigate what he calls the “reckless use of taxpayers’ money” on Moldgreen Community Primary School.
But Kirklees Council has hit back, saying his comments serve “no positive purpose whatsoever.”
Mr Sheerman said the £5m school, rebuilt three years ago, was put in the wrong place and had been beset by problems caused by bad design.
“It has been a catalogue of disasters and a reckless use of taxpayers’ money,” he said.
“This is the third year it has been open and there should be an inquiry into such a disastrously designed school.”
Controversy over the school erupted as soon as plans were drawn up to replace the old Victorian building in 2002.
A campaign was launched to have the school moved to land in Ravensknowle Park, Wakefield Road.
But Kirklees pressed ahead with the original plan to demolish the old building and build the new one on the same spot, at The Avenue.
In a letter to the Audit Commission, the independent body responsible for making sure public money is spent properly, Mr Sheerman said: “This meant an enormous extra cost of demolishing the old school, clearing the site and building a temporary school on the very site that many of us preferred for the permanent build.
“Local people consistently pointed out to the council that the site was too restricted, well below the Department for Education and Skills recommended norms, and that the school would have no playground.
“The response from Kirklees Council was that a clever design feature would meet this concern with a decking area on which a play area would sit and under which car parking and storage would take place.”
He said that since the school opened in 2005 the play area had hardly been used because of its design.
“Whether it is wet, icy, or dry it is a hazard to children. Many accidents have meant it is seldom used,” added Mr Sheerman.
He said there were also problems with water leaking into the car park.
“Many attempts at modifications have failed, at more expense to the council,” he added.
He said further design faults included a solar heating system that did not work properly, white boards that were too high for children to use and windows that did not open properly.
Mr Sheerman went on: “How can we have a brand-new school, paid for by the taxpayer, that is still not fully functioning?
“It’s a good school with brilliant leadership and wonderful kids. But they shouldn’t have to put up with all these problems.”
A parent from the school contacted the Examiner after his daughter had a fall on the playing surface.
He said: “There is still not enough care with regards to stopping children from being injured.
“My daughter not only suffered the indignity once again of falling over on the brand-new top play, but also had to suffer verbal taunts for the rest of the day.”
He said there had been more than 50 similar accidents this year.
Clr Jim Dodds, the council’s Cabinet member for children’s services, hit out at Mr Sheerman’s criticisms.
He said: “I would be more than happy to discuss the points Barry raises with him directly, rather than through the media.
“I am pleased he acknowledges what an excellent school we have at Moldgreen, but a little disappointed he has not contacted me directly with his concerns.
“He could have saved himself the trouble of taking this forward in the way he proposes, which I do not think serves any positive purpose whatsoever.”
Clr Dodds said the proposals for the new school had been well publicised and were the subject of extensive consultation.
He added: “This included issues concerning the siting of the school.
“Opinions on this were divided, but at the end of the day the then Cabinet chose this site.
“I am advised that when these consultations and issues around the location of the school were taking place those involved cannot recall Barry taking a view or contributing to the debate locally at that time.”
Clr Dodds said problems with the playground, car park and windows had been solved and the play area was regarded by the headteacher as the best in Kirklees.
The solar heating system had been faulty, but the manufacturer had paid compensation as a result and the new panels would be fitted in the summer, at no cost to the school or Kirklees.
The school had never complained or reported any concerns about the height of the white boards.
An Audit Commission spokesman said the situation would be considered in due course.