Building work behind schedule for refurb of Windmill Hill School in Luton
Pupils with special educational needs (SEN) face at least a week's delay before starting at their new free school in Luton because renovation work is behind schedule.
The search is on for a temporary alternative site to avoid children from Windmill Hill special school on York Street missing out on their education.
A community centre in High Town is the preferred option if this can be arranged, a meeting of the borough council's scrutiny children's services review group heard.
In December 2020, planning permission was granted for a new playground at the site, which was formerly occupied by Barnfield's Studio School, with a turnaround for minibuses to pick up and drop off pupils
The new school will be run by the Kettering-based Creating Tomorrow Multi Academy Trust.
Trust chief executive officer Kevin Latham said on its website: "We're really excited to have the opportunity to work with Luton Borough Council and the present outstanding special schools in the town to support some of the most vulnerable young people in our community."
The plan was for the school to open at the start of September with 49 students, aged 12 to 16, with the capacity increasing to 120 by 2024.
Liberal Democrat Crawley councillor Terry Keens asked: "Are we sure it's going to be ready in September?
"I walked past it last week and it's in such a state. We're talking about four or five weeks for that school to be built.
"And no way is it in any way near ready to open, not from what I've seen."
The council's SEN service manager Davina Stubbs replied: "The school was supposed to be taking over Windmill Hill site on August 23 to give the teachers a-week-and-a-half to set up classrooms.
"Children were due to do transition visits on September 2 and 3, with term starting on September 6. We've written to parents and said there'll be a one-week delay in that.
"We're working with the school to set up an alternative site where we can run fun activities for the children, so they can get to know their teachers.
"The current assurance from our team is that the trust can take ownership and move into the site on September 1 and the children can attend from Monday September 13, so a one-week delay."
Councillor Keens asked: "So you're actually confirming you'll not be ready? She said 'There's a very slight delay'."
He added: "I think it's going to be more than a slight delay. Can you tell me where the provision site will be?"
Ms Stubbs explained: "We're looking to see whether we can use the community centre in High Town.
"The reason for the delay was an unforeseen building hitch. But it will be sorted, I'm assured."
Windmill Hill is due to alleviate the pressure on secondary special school places in Luton, providing a surplus of places until March 2024, according to a report to the review group.
"The town's three special schools are now full to capacity," said the report. "All special schools within neighbouring authorities are also full."
Increased SEN demand suggests a potential reversal to "a 119-place deficit by September 2027 without further development and expansion of special school provision", added the report.