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Historic building on target for New Year opening as school for autistic children

ByPeter Barron

Nov 28, 2021 #Autism, #charity

THE transformation of an historic building into a new school for autistic children on Teesside is “bang on target” for a new year opening.

The disused Kiora Hall is being given a new lease of life by the North East Autism Society (NEAS), which is investing around £1.3m in the site as part of the charity’s expansion into the south of the region.

NEAS announced in May that it had agreed a 25-year lease with Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council to take over the building, and grounds, in Ragpath Lane, Norton.

Six months on, Thornbrook Construction has delivered an upbeat progress report, saying it is well on schedule to complete the redevelopment by the end of the year, having employed mainly local people to work on the project.

During his latest site visit, NEAS chief executive John Phillipson said: “We are thrilled with the progress, and it’s exciting to think we are on the cusp of having the school up and running, and launching a new era for Kiora Hall.”

The official handover deadline is January 21 but Thornbrook Construction director, Ryan White, hopes that the development could be completed by Christmas.

“It’s going extremely well, and everything is bang on target. It’s such an interesting project because of the history of the building and it’s fantastic to be able to put it back into such a positive use,” said Mr White.

“The challenge is to try to retain the historic features while making it fit for purpose for the charity and, from everything we hear, people in the local community are over the moon that something so worthwhile is being done with the site.”

Kiora Hall has had varied uses since it was built in 1902, including a family home, offices, an Army gun battery, youth club, school, and community centre. It was also used as an Italian prisoner of war camp during the war.

Around 120 people have been working on the redevelopment, with more than 80 per cent of trades people and labourers recruited from the local area.

Thirty-five children will be educated at Kiora Hall, and NEAS is recruiting teachers and teaching assistants.

“We want this to be a place that the people of the Stockton area think of as their own,” said Mr Phillipson. “It will not only become a school for autistic and neurodiverse children on Teesside, but our aim is to open it up for wider community use.”

The new school will feature 12 classrooms, plus computer rooms, new kitchen, and bathrooms. A sports hall, complete with new changing rooms and showers, is also part of the refurbishment.

The development follows the opening of the charity’s first school on Teesside, The Mackenzie Thorpe Centre, at South Bank, which has just celebrated its first anniversary, and will accommodate 30 pupils by the end of this year, in partnership with Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council.

“This is just the beginning of us wanting to work with local authorities across the Tees Valley to improve the education of autistic and neurodiverse children and remove the risk, and additional cost, of them having to travel outside of the area,” added Mr Phillipson.

Local councillor Jim Beale said: “A building that’s been difficult to maintain now has an exciting new purpose that will change lives. It’s a win-win and we are delighted to be working with the North-East Autism Society.”