College plan for The Public to cost millions

A multi-million pound sum would need to be pumped into transforming The Public into a sixth-form college, education chiefs admitted today.

the public
The Public

Sandwell College bosses looking to take over the building say it is too early to say exactly how much would need to be spent adapting the iconic arts centre, which was £34 million over budget when it opened.

But they highlighted the £20m cost of converting a school to an academy when pressed for a figure, while pledging their scheme would come in much cheaper than that.

Vice principal Scott Upton said tod-ay: “There is not an open pit of money. Academies can cost £20 million to convert, but we’re not looking anywhere near that.

“Obviously, we would need to put classroom space in there, but central student services – finance support, learning support – would be retained in the main Spon Lane college building. We would want to retain the character of the building.”

And he added: “These are still just talks, it’s not a done deal.”

The total planned cost of The Public project when approved by all funding partners in 2001 was £38.3m. But construction costs sent the price spiralling to £72m by 2009. The £77m Sandwell College campus in Spon Lane, West Bromwich, only opened to pupils last year. But already bosses are saying there is not enough room for A-level and AS-level students.

They are in talks with Sandwell Council about transforming The Public in West Bromwich into a sixth form to accommodate 1,000 A-level and AS-level students.

Sandwell College says it currently has capacity for 500 A-level and AS-level students on the sixth floor of its Spon Lane building. The college plans are the latest twist in the long-running saga over the gallery, which has faced public criticism since being built in 2008. The Public opened 12 months after its due date, vastly over budget, and was condemned by the Commons Culture Select Committee as a ‘gross waste of public money’.

The Arts Council contributed £31.8m to the project, up from an original £19m. Sandwell Council took over the centre in 2009 and continues to pump £1.5m a year into the building.

Mr Upton said the look and location of The Public was ideal for the college. “It’s a unique design – vibrant and fresh,” he said.

He added: “The geographical proximity is the first draw. You look out the [college] window and you can see it. It’s a two minute walk. Students could easily move between there and the main campus. It’s an iconic building. It’s a bit of a Marmite thing. You either love it or hate it. We love it. It’s the sort of building that will appeal to young people.”

Managing director of The Public, Linda Saunders, said spending more money on a building that has already had £72 million invested in it was controversial. “It seems like a strange use of public money,” she said.

“Especially when – under these proposals – the building would be used by far fewer people than it is currently.

“I understand Sandwell Council needs to save money from its budget but in terms of the overall public purse, it does not seem like value for money.”

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Comments for: "College plan for The Public to cost millions"

mrs b

There has already been enough taxpayers money spent on this building. A new college has been built in Sandwell ,if its not large enough and fit for purpose we have to ask who was managing the project and are these said people still employed by Sandwell council. Its a mystery where all this money is coming from when all we keep hearing about is budget cuts .

The Fat Lady

Converting it to a sixth form ends the sorry tale, hopefully with a success story. It's unsaleable, so the alternatives are knocking it down or continuing to subsidise it until it falls down. Which one do you want to pay for?

how does this end the sorry tale? you're money, my money and future generations' money will still be being ploughed into this building. I'm afraid that you will still be subsiding it until it falls down. Only much more and with no hope of a sixth form reducing their reliance on your public subsidy.


anything more than £0 is more than it needs to be Mr Upton. You are just as responsible as the council in this. You are spending public money and that building has had too much already. £72m (for an existing modern building) + £20m (conversion costs) + £77m (for a newly built building which is too small for you), just how much public money do you want Mr Upton? Are you planning to add to the regeneration of West Bromwich or are you just interested in creating a university-type town with campuses scattered all around. We won't be able to move in West Bromwich because of all the students, pound shops and empty retail units. Now Mr Upton, does that sound sensible and responsible?


To the Vice Principal, how astute of you. It is the sort of building that will appeal to young people. there's loads of them in there already. If you love it that much, the young people in there already have started a campaign against these proposals called Love the Public, perhaps you could join it?


Absolute madness!!!!!! This is crazy!!!!


This makes me so angry, I work in public sector, I have list out on around 10% wages in last 4 years, no payrises, cost of living through roof, new baby to feed, fuel prices ridiculous, and I agree we all need to tighten the purse strings, but then we go and blow millions on this white elephant

Somebody should be done for this, gotta be a massive fiddle and some fat cat "advisor" will be hundred and thousands better off from us.


Do these "Managers" go on specials courses to find even better ways of wasting my hard earned tax money or does it come natural


would it not be cheaper to move the Central Support Services, Financial Support etc. into one of the empty office floors nearby to college. the Bond Wolf building for instance? that way there would be much more space in the college for the students?

Baggie Bob

Why can't we convert the public into apartments which would help relieve some of the boroughs housing need and also help when we are flooded with Romanians and Bulgarians next year


Time to call it quits. Knock it down and build something useful....

Taxpayers money should not be going into this bankrupt disaster.


Sandwell college should make it a done deal. 1.5 million a year, is getting wasted on this place. Over paid staff at the public, that make very little return. Thats a strange use of money. Check out a previous article titled "Public taking on new staff" overpaid staff that dont want to lose their jobs thats what the petition is really all about.. I Have been to the public on a Sunday more staff than vistors, it looks like the building and tax payers money are being wasted with the way it is currently being run, it is time for a change. So please make it happen.


And what chance does the college stand of reducing its own subsidy (that's your taxes going into the building to pay for conversion costs, clawbacks, tutor salaries and per head per student). At least as an arts venue it makes some money! A college doesn't, it only costs tax payer's money to run it. If they didn't have a brand new one (which clearly wasn't planned properly as they need an extension) I'd be all for it.


If the college take over it will cost more to the taxpayer to convert the building (and then even more for rent subsidy) than the £1.5 million it currently costs now to run the building now. The financials of the college plan don't add up - not for the local taxpayer anyway.

Do Lallytap

Be afraid, be VERY afraid....Sandwell Council and their projected budgets leave a lot to be desired !

All budget planning for this mess SHOULD be done independently and NOT by the accountants at Sandwell Council who should have been sacked years ago.

To me, the main reason they want to use this as a part of the college is so that they can divert some of the education budget to keep this building going, the same way they diverted monies from the Greets Green redevelopment budget a few years ago.

When the college needs more money will Sandwell Council then turn it into a medical centre to use more fundings diverted or perhaps move the this space !!


It will be library I bet. Sandwell Council (and the college for that matter) like their listed buildings and proud heritage empty and falling apart after all.


If the deal goes through (it sounds as if it was done a while ago) the college will be getting funding for new sixth form students from the Department of Education, then there is the possibility they will receive a a huge chunk of taxpayer funding for the conversion of the building, and they will be getting a state of the art, brand new building thrown at a negotiated rent. It's completely unethical.




Millions are being spent on something which will only be used by a certain target group... why not put those millions somewhere, where it will actually make a difference? Old people homes? The NHS? Higher wages? All the government can do is take and never give back! Talk about lost causes. I feel sorry for the next generation.


At least they'll be highly educated with all this learning taking place in West Bromwich. It's a shame they'll have no prospects after though due to the strangulated regeneration as a result of a blinkered council hellbent on retribution, parochialistic leadership, ineffectual cabinet, and sedentary ruling labour group (too asleep to stand put their heads above the parapet show some backbone and say enough is enough to these poor decisions). Not to mention a short termist college vice principal and no leader! This has always felt wrong and now we just know it's amoral too in the light of the lack of money around. Are we ever going to get to consult on this, or do we have to wait to the next election and see UKIP join the ranks of the council?


Simon, I agree with you. I've got a degree (I got a first). What's needed in Sandwell is more job opportunities, rather than more educational choice (unless it's specifically technical). Sandwell College claim they are over-subscribed. This probably has more to do with the lack of job opportunities and enterprise in the area, not because the college itself offers a unique educational model. Sandwell and the surrounding areas already has a vast choice of educational establishments compared to other places in the country. Some great colleges and unis are just a short bus ride away. If they want to expand they could expand into another building.


Talk about lack of standards in public life. Darren Cooper, Mahboob Hussain, Scott Upton, the council you should be thoroughly disgusted with what you're proposing here. On what planet in your small world and ivory towers is this acceptable?


Arabella - I agree with you on many levels. However, I believe that this building in particular stands more chance of realising the kind of community aims you state if it stays as a community based space. I feel that The Public has a great potential to be a modern base for providing great well-being services to many people in Sandwell, not just a niche group. In this way it could remain as a potentially lucrative multi-use venue which could be enjoyed by the public an private enterprise alike.

Vernon Grant

Yet again I ask the question - if the Council are going to spend millions ruining a world-class building then why has it no commercial value. The College seem to be getting some sort of special treatment here which may or may not be legal. As it is the figures all seem like a "back of the envelope" job.

Uppy why not try to get private funding for this hideous building.


I agree. This would happen anywhere else in the country. Look a the 02 - that's a great success now. The Public could be the same. I'm not sure whether placing sixth formers in such an 'iconic' building will be successful in the long term. Which is why I doubt it will happen - the college just seem to want to get their hands on a specific building, rather than expand elsewhere.


Based upon these figures there is no way this finanically stacks up. Why is nobody holding these people to account? I thought we lived in a democracy not some shoddy dictatorship. Let the public fall down but don't let this deal based upon what appear financial guesses, ifs and buts and a desire to force it through go ahead. Unethical and disgusting. Shame on you all.


Until you (the voters) do something about this lot who are in charge of OUR borough you won't change things in sandwell, because they know it won't the reason being working class people still think Labour are a working class party wake up they are NOT! They are just the same as the other's as I have said on many of threads on these council issue's. With respect Linda Saunders you are just protecting your wll paid job even though I agree with you. I will say this again when are other parts of the borough going to get such investments it's not only the people from west bromwich with respect pay council tax to you lot you know !