A science education centre says its future could be threatened by a neighbouring school’s plans to install an eight-feet-high fence and gates along its access route.
Chichester High School for Boys wants the 2.4-metre-high fence, plus a pair of gates, to better safeguard its pupils and prevent intruders.
But trustees of the South Downs Planetarium say the measures will seriously impact on access to the site, and have raised concerns about the type of gates to be used.
One of the school’s options is to install automatic electronic gates, but the planetarium – which receives thousands of primary school children each year – fears this type poses a serious risk of harm after the model was involved in death and injuries to children.
The successful planetarium, which opened in 2001, lies to the south of the school and can only be reached by a track which starts near the school sports centre. The fence would run alongside the track and there would be a gate across the road in front of the planetarium; there would also be another fence 1.8 metres high on the northern side of the playground.
Planetarium trustee Robert Kirk said there needed to be ‘compelling reasons’ for installing such gates because of the associated risks and said more information was needed from the school.
“Obviously as trustees we have an absolute duty of care to the children coming and most of them are of primary school age visiting during school day when it is anticipated the automatic gate being proposed will be operating. We are deeply, deeply concerned. Putting in an automatic gate in that situation falls into the highest of three risk categories.”
The school has told trustees safeguarding of students is paramount, especially following the Soham murders. The site is open and in the past there have been problems with intruders during school time, with Ofsted raising the issue of improving safeguarding. It said the gates would not impede access and would only operate 9am-3.15pm, Monday-Friday during term-time.
Mr Kirk said the planetarium appreciated the school needed to address issues but said the fence and gate scheme as it stood were unsatisfactory and has suggested forming a group to find a solution. He said this should be based on the principles of its user agreement which states it should have unimpeded access at all times.
“We are extremely anxious to cooperate with all the schools, especially those we share the site with,” said Mr Kirk. “It’s not that we are being dog in a manger about it and don’t really care, we do want to work with them; we are just very, very concerned about the scheme as it stands at the present time.”
He said the planetarium had a complex range of daily access needs, with a wide range of people coming and going. “If access was made more difficult that would be an actual discouragement for people to want to come and visit and I guess the issue of a gate of that sort of nature would put people off. The whole point of putting us there was to widen participation. At the moment it works extremely well and anything that would undermine it is a potential risk.”
The school contacted the planetarium in February; it is believed work starts next month.