Transforming The Public into a sixth form will provide a ‘major boost’ for young people, college bosses said today.
Sandwell Council and Sandwell College are set to sign a deal to transform the West Bromwich centre. The deal will also include arts space and a business support facility.
And today council and college chiefs said the prospective agreement was a winner for young people and council taxpayers. The deal, which will see the college and council enter into a 25-year partnership, is set to be put to Sandwell Council’s cabinet of senior councillors on October 16.
And last night members of the authority’s ruling Labour group voted unanimously to proceed with the plans.
It would mean temporarily closing The Public’s doors in November to allow conversion work in time for a sixth-form centre to open there in September 2014.
The council and college are also planning to use some of the building for a variety of arts-based activities which would be open to the public. These would include an arts cafe on the ground floor, photography, fashion shows and exhibitions, space for some local community arts activities and Sandwell’s annual arts festival.
Scott Upton, vice-principal of Sandwell College, said today: “This development will provide a major boost to the educational opportunities of young people in Sandwell.
“There is an enormous demand for the current Central Sixth, with six people applying for each place. Local traders have already praised the college for increasing takings on the High Street and the new campus can only add to this.” Councillor Darren Cooper, leader of Sandwell Council, added: “We need to secure a viable, long-term future for the building – and a deal with the college gives a chance of that.
“Negotiations with the college are going very well and we are now drilling down to finalise the details of the proposal.
“This plan will save council taxpayers in Sandwell an estimated £37 million over 25 years, while helping give thousands of our young people a better education and, therefore, better chances in life.
“They’re big benefits which, for me, have to outweigh the undoubted pleasure that many people get from The Public and what it’s doing at the moment. Life’s tough at the moment – and that means tough decisions when we’re continually fighting to protect basic services for local people.”
He added: “At the same time, the partnership with the college will ensure arts activities can continue at the building and help put a new focus on support for businesses.”
Companies based at The Public have criticised the council’s decision to close the landmark building as ‘extremely short sighted’ as they begin the difficult task of finding new premises.
Andy Sinclair, marketing director for both the People’s Orchestra and The Change Consortium, was devastated at the news that The Public would be closing.
“Since moving here we have been helping and training people to get back into work,” said Mr Sinclair, who has been based in the building for the last two years.
“I think this decision by the council and its leader is extremely short sighted. It almost seemed like a done deal before they even attempted to look at ways to reduce the cost of The Public, they should have created a revised business plan before. Unfortunately a lot of money has been wasted on the building. It seems to me that they are throwing out the baby with the bath water.”