Bishop's Stortford secondary St Mary's Catholic School marks milestone in £3.9m building project
Students at St Mary's Catholic School are going back to the future as the secondary marks a milestone in a £3.9m redevelopment of its historic heart.
After a year of construction, a project to restore and refurbish the near-derelict Georgian and Victorian buildings fronting Windhill in Bishop's Stortford has hit the halfway mark.
The structures are where the school was founded. In May 1896, five sisters of St Mary left Namur, Belgium, bound for Bishop's Stortford.
Their first home was a small rented house in Grange Road, but on February 18, 1897 they purchased Windhill Lodge. The next month, the first public mass was celebrated.
In the early 1900s, with funding from the Catholic church, the much larger schoolhouse was built next door.
The five-storey Victorian block at the school's entrance – which once housed the English department, library and art studios – has been largely disused for the past decade while the three-storey Georgian lodge, which will revert to being the school's administration area, has largely been out of commission since 2015.
To mark the progress, a small group of staff and governors donned hard hats, steel toe-capped boots and high-vis vests to climb the scaffolding which has surrounded the school's oldest buildings during the work.
Gathering at the highest point, they enjoyed spectacular views across the school and town before dean, parish priest and school governor Father Peter Harris led a short blessing, giving thanks for the work completed so far and praying for its successful completion.
Head Andrew Celano said: "It was important for us to recognise the milestone for this project. We've been fortunate enough to see a number of major refurbishments here at St Mary's over the last few years and it's always good to have a moment to take stock. Looking across the whole school from this vantage point helps to put all the work into perspective.
"We are excited to see how completion of the next phase will deliver ten new classrooms, some of which will be exclusively for sixth-form use, a new dining room and a new reception. The 'front' of the school will, therefore, return to its original position adjacent to the Windhill roundabout."
The project is the third phase of a £5m transformation for St Mary's which has created a suite of eight new science laboratories and ten new classrooms.
The school currently has a roll of around 1,000 pupils drawn from the town and across the Lea Valley Catholic deanery, and 144 staff.
More by this authorSinead Corr