THE cost of Taunton’s newest primary school has risen by an eye-watering £5 million since the designs were first put forward.

Orchard Grove Primary School will serve the residents of the new Orchard Grove development currently being constructed at the western edge of Taunton, which will eventually comprise 2,000 homes.

Construction on the new school is under way after planning permission was granted in January, with a ‘timber framing ceremony’ being held on Tuesday (September 26) after the Orchard Grove developers’ consortium officially handed over the land to Somerset Council.

The new school, which will be finished by September 2024, is now predicted to cost £12.3m – £5 million more than was originally budgeted.

When the project was first announced in November 2021, Somerset County Council estimated that it would cost £7.3m to build the new school, which has enough space for 420 pupils (and can be expanded in the future to accommodate a further 210 pupils).

By the time the school was granted planning permission in January 2023, the cost had risen to £11.3m because of high inflation. 

Somerset Council (which replaced the county council in April 2023) confirmed on Wednesday (September 27) that the school was now expected to cost £12.3m – meaning costs have gone up nearly 69 per cent in less than two years.

The new school, which is part of the Castle Partnership Trust, will include a 52-place nursery, three sports pitches, a production kitchen and a library.

The building will include solar panels, air source heat pumps and electric vehicle charging points – and will be only the third school in the south west which is built to passivhaus zero carbon standards.

Somerset County Gazette: An artist's impression of the new Orchard Grove Primary School in Taunton.An artist's impression of the new Orchard Grove Primary School in Taunton. (Image: BAM)

Somerset Council said the rise in cost for the Orchard Grove school would not take money away from other school building projects in the county and gave assurances that further cost increases would be limited as far as possible.

A spokesman said: “This rise is primarily down to inflation, but also the additional costs relating to passivhaus/net zero which are greater than first estimated.

“We have not had to take away funds from other school projects. Additional Section 106 funding has been sought and additional capital has been committed by the local authority.

“The contract has clauses to ensure a number of key building components prices are fixed.  That said, packages of work procured beyond the first six months remain at risk of inflation.”

Councillor Tessa Munt, portfolio holder for children, families and education, said: “These are exciting first steps for our new school build. We are creating a modern learning environment for Orchard Grove Primary’s future pupils, where they will be supported to thrive and achieve.

“Our environmentally-friendly building shows our young people that we are committed to their academic achievement, personal development and their futures beyond the realms of education as we seek to mitigate and control our impact on the environment.”

Councillor Dixie Darch, portfolio holder for climate change and the environment, said that the rise in costs would not dissuade the council from persuading other zero carbon building projects in the future.

She said: “Orchard Grove Primary will be an historic building of which Somerset can be proud, being the first fully net zero, climate resilient school in our county.

“The energy efficiency of the building will allow for cost savings which can be channelled back into educational resources.

“There will be more like this to come as we deliver against our climate emergency strategy and, meanwhile, we continue to de-carbonise as many of our existing buildings as possible.”

Somerset County Gazette: The school will open in September 2024.The school will open in September 2024. (Image: BAM)

The new school building will open in September 2024, but from this term pupils will attend Isambard Kingdom Brunel school in Wellington, with the council providing the necessary transport.

Orchard Grove children will wear their new school uniforms, have the same classes, subjects and teachers.

Orchard Grove headteacher Richard Healey said: “The school will centre itself firmly in the heart of its local community by ensuring pupils have a clear sense of what makes a good citizen.

“Pupils will have a strong sense of themselves in the local, national and global context and of the responsibility they have to others, in the present and in the future.

“Orchard Grove will create an environment where children, staff and the community can build a positive and progressive school culture around sustainability and education.

“Within the setting of Somerset’s first net zero carbon school, children will be inspired by a unique curriculum that is preparing them for lifelong learning and a positive impact in the world.”

A decision is expected shortly on the next phase of the Orchard Grove development, which comprises 160 homes near the school – and includes a larger-than-expected amount of affordable housing.

Emma Colin, regional managing director of Vistry Western, part of the Orchard Grove Consortium, said: “The new school will provide an essential amenity at Orchard Grove, and we are pleased to play a part in its progress.

“Delivering new developments is about building futures and creating opportunities, and a new school embodies this sentiment perfectly.

“A green, sustainable, high-quality facility like this is such an exciting addition and we know countless families will benefit from it in the many years to come.”