COST increases from £500,000 to £1.25m for the expansion of the Longspee special school on the Bournemouth Learning Centre site have been explained.

BCP Council members have been told the £750,000 extra is justified – but should have been realised earlier, according to a council overview and scrutiny board.

Councillors have probing how the increase in costs came about and how the decision to approve it was made without going through the normal committee system.

Members of the board were told that, despite more than doubling the initial cost estimate, the school is much loved and has allowed youngsters in the area to be educated close to home – resulting in a saving over the long-term.

It is being run with the Ambitions Academies Trust with 12 places now available on the satellite site and up to 54 by September 2021.

The meeting heard that a legal agreement had still not been signed for the long-term management of the site and there were delays in gaining planning permission for both a security fence and a multi-use games area.

Part of the problem had been caused by finding asbestos in the building, extra electrical work and other unforeseen repairs and improvements. It was also decided there was a need for extra adaptations to be able to cater for children with the broadest range of needs, which alone added an extra £506,000. Increasing the capacity from the original 45 to 54 pupils put an additional £110,000 on the bill.

A report to the committee concluded: “The project still represents exceptional value for money as the cost of each place will be more than 40% below the national average and as a result of not needing so many independent placements, the council will make a revenue saving in the region of £1.2 million annually.”

Portfolio holder Cllr Nicola Greene said the project had been brought forward to get children using the school as early as possible which meant a decision over extra costs was not able to go to the council’s Cabinet, or be reported to Council, and had been made by the chief executive using delegated emergency powers.

She said that at the moment the project was running to its expected costs.

Overview board chairman Cllr Stephen Bartlett said he had now visited the school: ”It’s going to be a fantastic facility and a credit to this council.. but we got into a bit of a mess with it,” he said.

He said that new project management arrangements had now been put in place to avoid a repeat of the situation.

Education consultant Terry Reynolds said there was still no formal legal agreement in place with the Academy but he was confident it would be signed soon, without problems.

“It is a good project which will offer value for money and will deliver what we want, but the process of getting there has been far from ideal,” he said.

Ward councillor Nigel Hedges said he had been amazed to hear the condition of the building had come as a surprise, given that the former council and the existing one had been tenants for twenty years. He said despite not being kept informed as the local councillor he had now visited the school and described it as being just what was needed for the area at a high specification.

Said another visitor to the school Cllr Richard Burton: “My regret is that the process of getting there has hidden a good news story…it is good value for money, the children are travelling less, they are no longer going out of the area, which would have been a higher expense.

“This is a good new story for the children which has been buried by a discussion on finance,” he said.

Pics of all the councillors involved plus education advisor Terry Reynolds