02:48AM, Thursday 27 February 2014
The final piece of the jigsaw is set to fit into place as a £26m project to transform and diversify the Berkshire College of Agriculture in Burchetts Green is nearing completion.
The college, in Hall Place, has set about creating a 'college for Maidenhead' to fill the further education void created when East Berkshire College left the town in 2007.
The 400-acre site has retained its focus on the land, but now devotes nearly 50 per cent of its teaching to other subjects as it branches out through a series of new builds.
This week, it secured a grant from the Skills Funding Agency to press ahead with building a £2.5m technology research centre - the final project in an extensive renovation of the campus which has taken place over eight years.
Work on the building will start as soon as possible, with an estimated completion date of Christmas, and will take place in tandem with several other builds which are coming to a head this year.
"We are still very much a land-based college," said vice principal Anne Entwistle, who took the Advertiser on a tour of the site on Tuesday.
"But we have diversified hugely over the last few years which really is in response to what we felt the need in the area was."
Just down to the left of the historic 18th century mansion which fronts the college, workmen are hard at working putting the finishing touches to a state-of-the-art sports hall.
Work only started on the facility, which will have multi-purpose uses and improved changing facilities, in September but is expected to be completed by the spring.
A few hundred yards away, a biomass energy centre is taking shape which will provide sustainable heat for the mansion and residential blocks.
Between them, the two projects cost £3.2m.
Further down, the Animal Management Centre is preparing for a fresh influx of exotic creatures and riders enjoy the benefits of improved equestrian facilities.
Art and design is being given more of a focus, while the former principal's house is now being used for teaching health and social care.
A mix of grants, long-term loans and college assets have funded the schemes, but principal Gillian May believes the college is on target to attain the 'critical mass' for financial sustainability.
When development started there were 800 full time students but that number has grown to just shy of 1,300 and could eventually reach 1,500.
"The difference is the students have more choice and more options," said Ms Entwistle.
"I think the experience they have here makes them industry ready."
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