A NAME change is being planned for the former St Mary’s School site near Shaftesbury.

The site, bought by Dorset Council earlier in the year for £10million, is currently being adapted for the first sixty pupils, expected to take up their places at the special school in the new year.

Councillors were told this week that it is now to be known as Coombe House School, after Coombe House, the first property to be built on the site in the 1890s.

The larger site will be known as the Dorset Centre for Excellence.

Education director for the county Vik Verma broke the news in response to questions about progress being made on the site in preparation for what is planned to be a February opening, although that is still subject to building works being completed and Ofsted requirements being fulfilled.

Councillors were told that while the adaptation works were still anticipated to be within the £5million conversion costs the project had been troubled by both a shortage of construction materials and, at times, construction workers.

Executive director of Place, John Sellgren, told the place and resources committee that despite the challenges there was still confidence that the work would be completed on time and within budget.

He said the shortage of materials and rise in prices had been attributed to a combination of Covid lockdowns and EU exit and affected not only the Shaftesbury school site but other Dorset Council building projects as well.

“We have a clear timeline and we have made sure that it remains on track and within our budget variance,” said Mr Sellgren.

The school, which may eventually have around 280 pupils, is to be run by a limited company, wholly owned by Dorset Council, with possible wider uses for the larger site in the future, although these will have to be compatible with a school for vulnerable learners. Ideas under consideration include ‘move on’ accommodation and training for older pupils preparing to leave education.

Mr Verma told the meeting that even with total costs around £15million the site remained good value for money and would offer the council further opportunities in the years to come. He said to build a new school from scratch would almost certainly have cost more and taken 3-5 years.

Coombe House was built as a private residence in the 1890s, became a hotel in the 1930s and was used as a rest home for American air crew during the Second World War.

It later became a convent before being converted and extended to create St Mary’s School for Girls which had 325 pupils at its peak.