Posted: 23rd November 2018
Friday 16th November marked an historic milestone for Parkhall Integrated College as we celebrated the official opening of our multi-million-pound new school. It has been a long time coming, but that only made the launch all the sweeter. After almost half a century at the steeple, Parkhall Integrated College is now looking into the next 50 years with renewed confidence – and with justifiable pride. It has not always been an easy journey, but it was certainly worthwhile.
Parkhall Integrated College has leapt form the drawing board to become a living and breathing school. The pupils’ passion for their school was there for all to see. Showing VIPs’ around the new building was clearly not a chore. Oh no, they were proud and showed great delight showing it off.
But perhaps inevitability, no-one was more proud than our principal Mr Beattie. He has been hands on from early days, patiently guiding the project even when it looked like the long journey was doomed to failure as irritating months of delays turned into frustrating years of uncertainty.
When the cheque was finally written, he remained with a constant presence on the site. How many principals do you know with their own hard hat?
He looked a happy man on that Friday afternoon as he addressed a large crowd in the cavernous assembly hall. There were fellow principals from several local schools, along with many familiar faces who had worked at Parkhall down the years.
Local politicians were also out in force. South Antrim MP Paul Girvan was there, along with MLA’s Pam Cameron and Trevor Clarke. And it was not just the DUP toasting the success of Northern Ireland’s newest integrated school. SDLP councillor Roisin Lynch was present too, as were Ulster Unionists Drew Ritchie – who sat on the Board of Governors for a quarter of a century and Alliance rep Neil Kelly.
Mr Beattie welcomed them all to the building ‘many thought would never happen’. And he personally thanked all the political reps who helped make sure it did. “The cross-community support this project enjoyed was quite unique,” he said. “I must offer special thanks to Dr McCrea who is here today. His standard line throughout was ‘we need to get this over the line’. And eventually we did.” There was also a ‘huge thanks’ for the staff who had endured a split campus for over a decade.
“Closing two old schools and moving into a new one in the middle of a school year was a monumental task!” the principal said. “But they certainly made the grade, ensuring a smooth transition and delivering on their promise to launch an A level syllabus for the first time. That’s dedication for you.”
Mervyn Alexander, the chair of the Board of Governors, addressed the room as the applause finally died down. “It’s my pleasure to be here today for the historic milestone in the life of Parkhall Integrated College,” he said, “This day was a long time coming, and there were some who thought it would never come at all. Yet here we are in this beautiful new building.”
It all began, he added, when former principal Roy Dickson, who was in the audience, began lobbying for a new sports hall. And from that small seed a new college has grown. He also paid tribute to the political leaders who had played their role, including the three MP’s who had been involved during the lengthy gestation, as well as the team of MLA’s and councillors. The results, he said, speak for themselves. “For 47 years this collage has been a major part of the community. With this magnificent new building we believe it will continue for the next 50 years and beyond.
“This building combined with dedication of the staff will lead to young people in this area being provided with an excellent education – and continue to raise the education standards in the Antrim area.”
This was echoed by Alderman John Smyth, the Deputy Mayor of Antrim. He said the new building was ‘fantastic’, and praised Parkhall for continuing to run a youth club three nights a week, as well as hosting several clubs and community groups.
The DUP man paid warm tribute to the people who had pursued the vision for the school and helped ‘make the dream a reality’
Next on stage was the former Chief Executive of Derry City Council Sharon O’Connor, who is now chair of the Education Authority. The last time she visited the Parkhall site a good pair of Wellington boots were a necessity – and she was clearly impressed by what had been achieved in the intervening months.
It had been a long journey, but ultimately a worthwhile one. “It is not easy to get a school delivered and it’s wonderful to see it here today. It really is a joyful experience,” Ms O’Connor said. “It gives me great hope for the future of education.”
She paid tribute to some who had played an integral role, adding that it was a reflection of how long it had taken that many of them had since retired. But focus now, she said, was very much on the future. “I’m sure this will be a place of dreams. A place of ambition,” she added to thunderous applause before unveiling a plaque commemorating the day.
Speaking afterwards, Drew Ritchie said he was ‘immensely proud’ of what the team at Parkhall had achieved for future generations. “There’s no doubt that the building is very impressive and I’m delighted this day has finally arrived. I’ve no doubt that it will continue to serve Antrim for many years to come,” he said.
Councillor Neil Kelly, welcomed the multi-million-pound investment in integrated education and urged local families to take advantage of the cutting edge facility on their doorsteps. As the crowd began to clear one man held back, examining the building in a quiet moment of contemplation. It was William McCrea, who had been credited by multiple speakers as one of the key drivers behind the project. “This is the result of a lot of work carried out by a lot of people over a long period of time,” he told the Guardian. “I brought all the elected representatives together with the Board of Governors and the Education Board to make a joint presentation to the Department. “we were finally able to get it over the line, even though it seemed to have fallen on a number of occasions! “This is a wonderful day after years of lobbying, it really is. “I must pay tribute to George Beattie himself. He was a real driving force. His perseverance has created a centre of excellence for this community.” It is certainly a very different school than before, and no-one knows that better than Mr Beattie’s three predecessors. Roy Dickson was at Parkhall for 32 years, including 22 in the top job. “What they have achieved is simply magnificent. Parkhall was always a great school, and now it has been given the building that it deserves.”
Mr Dickson was followed by Tom Skelton, and he said the new school was ‘remarkable’ and a testament to ‘years of teamwork.’ Mavis Knox took early retirement a decade ago, but she admitted that she had many fond memories of her time at Parkhall. “The new school is terrific and you can tell the pupils and staff are very proud of it. I would like to congratulate everyone involved,” she said.
Parkhall Integrated College Vision Statement