Multi-million pound investment ‘shows Paston College is here to stay - and grow’
07:00 20 June 2013
Archant Norfolk 2013
Multi-million pound investment plans prove that Paston College is staying put – and preparing for growth, according to its principal.
A new £750,000 student services centre has opened for business as the first stage in major modernisation and expansion plans by the sixth-form college which attracts students from all over north Norfolk as well as Norwich and as far afield as Diss.
The centre heralds a new era for Paston where the governing body said a firm “no” earlier this year to an ambitious bid by London developers.
They wanted to build a “sunken” Tesco, restaurants, homes and medical facilities on The Lawns – one of Paston’s two central North Walsham sites – and rebuild the college on edge-of-town land it owns off Station Road.
College principal Kevin Grieve hopes the new centre’s opening, which will formally take place next month, will firmly nail down the coffin lid on all talk of the college relocating in the foreseeable future.
The developer’s proposals followed earlier advanced plans by the college itself to move to Station Road but that scheme fell through when government funding was cut.
Mr Grieve said planned investments demonstrated Paston’s confidence in its future as part of North Walsham town centre.
“We made our decision and that’s it – now we are in the fantastic position of having three pieces of land where further development can take place,” he added.
“We are in a very strong position because we know we can invest in both The Lawns and The Griffons sites.”
The old student services centre, on The Lawns site, is now undergoing a £150,000 conversion into a study centre where more than 100 students can carry out independent research, doubling the space currently available in the college library.
This summer will see a further £1.4m spent on refurbishing the college’s science block and updating its four laboratories ready for September when Paston expects to number between 850 and 900 students.
And next year the college hopes to be successful with another bid to the government’s Building Condition Improvement Fund, enabling it to invest a further £1m updating the arts block and theatre on its Griffons site. There are also longer-term plans to improve sports facilities off Station Road.
The new student services centre has been created out of the former children’s services building, adjoining Paston’s Lawns site, which the college has bought from Norfolk County Council.
Mr Grieve said Paston had bucked the national trend among state schools and colleges by increasing the number of its students - from 11pc to 20pc - who gained places at the top Russell Group universities in 2013. This year 51pc of Paston students had applied to the Russell Group.
He added: “Our challenge is to get above 1,000 students and with our strong tradition of very good results, getting students into top universities and good jobs, our excellent transport links, and these first-class facilities, I think we can do it.”