Lisanelly: Work begins to create shared campus in Omagh
Work has begun to clear and prepare the former Army base at Lisanelly in Omagh, County Tyrone, into a shared education campus.
Education Minister John O'Dowd visited the 126-acre site on Wednesday as phase one of the project got under way.
Phase one will see the construction of a new school for Arvalee Special School and a resource centre.
Six schools, catering for 3,700 pupils will eventually be built and based on the site.
Mr O'Dowd described the start of work as a "hugely significant milestone".
"The Lisanelly project is visionary. It will be the largest single investment in education facilities ever made here, with construction costs estimated to be in excess of £120m, as it brings six schools together on one campus in the town for the first time," he said.
"The commencement of demolition marks the beginning of the delivery phase of the Lisanelly Shared Education Campus. It is symbolic of the progress we have made in recent years through working together in an atmosphere of collaboration and sharing.
"It is symbolic of our move away from the past, toward a brighter future where everyone here can fulfil his or her potential, irrespective of political, religious or social background."
The minister attended the site with pupils from each of the six schools involved to witness demolition of the first building.
The six schools that will move on to the site are Arvalee School and Resource Centre; Loreto Grammar School; Omagh High School; Sacred Heart College; Omagh Academy and Christian Brothers Grammar School.
Mr O'Dowd said the schools involved had a "unique opportunity to create something special".
"The opportunity exists to ensure the end result will be greater than the sum of the individual parts and the campus provides a model for shared education here," he said.
"A model that can act as a flagship for the area and as a beacon showing the way forward for other educational communities in the north.
"The schools involved have recognised strengths and capabilities and well deserved reputations for delivering quality education and pastoral support for local children.
"There is not, and never has been, any intention to dilute the individual strengths or capabilities of those schools. Rather we want to ensure that we harness and share all that is best in these schools and working together deliver a world class, 21st Century education for the area."
The new site will include some shared areas, such as a school of performance, sports facilities and an ecology centre.