THE cost of converting a Bournemouth skills centre into a special school has more than doubled.

“Unforeseen” issues repurposing Bournemouth Learning Centre into a Longspee Academy satellite and “inflated” building costs have been blamed for the rise from £500,000 to £1.25 million.

Members of BCP Council’s cabinet agreed on Wednesday to cover the extra costs saying the 54 extra school spaces the facility would provide were “urgently needed”.

The repurposing of the Ensbury Avenue centre was approved under the council’s previous Unity Alliance administration as part of efforts to reduce a multi-million pound deficit in its special educational needs budget.

Funding of £500,000 for the new satellite school, which will be run by Ambitions Academies Trust, was approved in June, including a £50,000 contingency fund was also provided.

The cost of converting the building to provide 54 spaces was judged to be less than one-quarter of that of funding places at independent providers.

Twelve places are due to be available later this month with the remainder provided from September.

But the cost of the work has now more than doubled, prompting a request for an extra £750,000 from the council to complete it.

A report said the pandemic had “inflated” the construction bill by £164,000 while almost £300,000 more was needed rectify structural issues with the building.

The original project plans also failed to make provision for suitable sporting facilities and higher fencing around the school grounds which adds a further £150,000 to the cost.

But it said the scheme was “still the most cost-effective way” to increase the provision of special school spaces and added that it would save £1.2 million a year.

“National benchmarking data shows that the average cost for the delivery of a refurbishment project was £42,500 per place,” the report said. “For a new build this increases to £84,000 per place.

“The revised cost of the project set out above equates to £23,000 per place for 54 places, so still represents good value for money.”

Because of the amount of extra funding required, approval would usually be required of the full council.

But with it not meeting until June, and the need for construction work to continue, its cabinet was instead asked to approve the use of urgency powers by its chief executive, Graham Farrant, to make the extra funding available.

Speaking at its meeting on Wednesday, Mr Farrant said the situation was “not ideal” but said there were “limited” alternative options.

And councillor Nicola Greene, whose cabinet role includes education, said the new satellite school would help relieve long-term budget pressures.

“This would mean that fewer children need to go either out of the area, or into more expensive independent, non-maintained special schools bringing forward cost avoidance for the future,” she said.

The cabinet unanimously agreed to approve the extra funding needed to complete the project and that Mr Farrant allocates it through urgency powers.