An “exciting” new-state-of-the-art £1.4 million sports centre and fully-equipped canteen are to be built at a Market Harborough secondary school.
Work is due to get under way on the ambitious twin infrastructure project at Welland Park Academy on Welland Park Road in April.
And both the new sports hall and the restaurant are set to be opened in September ready for the new intake of students.
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Talking to the Harborough Mail at the 960-pupil school today, head Julie McBrearty said: “We are all very excited about opening both the new sports complex and the canteen here.
“They will represent a massive step forward for our school.
“We are being handed £1.1 million in section 106 developer cash to help fund this critical work and we are putting up the rest of the money ourselves.
“We very much appreciate all the work that Harborough District Council has put in to help expedite the planning side of this bold initiative.
“The new sports centre will be 554sq metres and it will be a standard Sport England four-court set-up.
“It’s going to be huge for us and alongside our current sports centre will give us first-class sporting facilities,” said Julie.
“It’s taken longer than we wanted to get off the ground.
“But work is to start on the sports centre and canteen in April and they should be completed for September, ready for the new academic year.
“Mental health and physical health are intrinsically linked, they go hand in hand, so we are thrilled to be giving our fantastic students the best possible chance to enjoy sport.
“Our canteen is as old as this school – which dates back to the 1930s – so it’s crucial that we replace it now.
“We are going to turn our big assembly hall into our new canteen,” said Julie.
“Good healthy food and the right nutrition are absolutely essential for our students.
“The vast majority of our students have their dinner here so our new canteen will be a massive boost for them.”
Standing alongside Julie, Jason Button, the head of PE at Welland Park Academy, told the Mail: “The new sports centre will have four courts and much bigger changing rooms.
“It will be a real game-changer for our school and our students.
“The new complex will give us so much more space and flexibility, allowing so many more boys and girls to play sport inside.
“That will be invaluable as we never know what the weather’s going to be like.
“I’m sure that it will help to enthuse and fire up even more students to engage in a wide range of sports and activities here,” said Jason.
“I’ve taught here for just over 10 years.
“And there are more youngsters taking part in sport here at Welland Park than ever before.
“In 2021-22 our sports teams have so far played 318 fixtures across 20 different sports involving 99 teams made up of boys and girls of all ages.
“That’s absolutely brilliant.
“About 40 per cent of every year group represents our school in one sport or another,” said Jason.
“That to me is hugely successful – it’s not all about going on to win cups or gold medals.
“It’s about student participation and involvement – and encouraging students to engage in and enjoy sport for the rest of their lives.”
Listening in, Julie chipped in: “We are just flying so high at the moment.
“Both our boys and girls basketball teams have got into the semi-finals of a tough competition for schools right across the county.
“And our boys have also made the semis of football and rugby tournaments – and we are so proud of all of them.”
The students themselves also poured praise on the school’s new sports headquarters about to start taking shape on their sprawling playing fields.
Thea, 16, captain of the Year 11 girls’ basketball team, told the Mail: “It’s going to be amazing.
“Students will be so lucky to be able to make the most of the new sports centre.
“I use our existing sports hall every week and love it,” she said.
“It’s so important to encourage as many girls as possible to get into sport and this new building will certainly help.”
Zack, 16, the school’s football team skipper, said: “This will be so good because it will allow different basketball sides to play at the same time rather than having to wait for each other.
“I love football but playing any sort of sport is so vital for students,” added the centre-back, a Leicester fan.
“This new sports hall will be a massive asset for our school.”
Harry, 16, who captains the rugby team, said: “We’ll be able to do our rugby 7s training in the new sports complex for a start.
“It will help to give us an extra edge when it comes to competing,” said the centre.
“I enjoy playing football and athletics as well so this will be great for all of us.”
Ollie, 15, the school’s basketball captain, said: “We have to alternate matches now so this will give us the chance to play at the same time.
“Playing sport is critical for our mental wellbeing as well as our physical health so we’re all looking forward to this new sports centre being built.”