West Kent College unveils its ambitious plans for the future

Calverley House

Major plans for a new £30million technology centre in Tonbridge have been revealed by West Kent College.

Initial groundwork on the facility has now begun and is expected to be complete in 2017, offering motor vehicle mechanics and engineering courses at its campus in Brook Street.

It is another step forward in revamping the prime site.

Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, Group Director of Finance and Resources at the Hadlow Group, which acquired West Kent College (formerly known as K College) in 2014, said there had been significant challenges in restoring the site’s fortunes.

Among the key tasks they faced was re-establishing the college’s finances, after it had struggled amid debts of £16million under its former management.

He now hopes that the community will back the college’s ambitious plans.

Mr Lumsdon-Taylor said the two-year strategy of evaluating college facilities across Tonbridge, Ashford and Tunbridge Wells, had proved successful.

One of the Hadlow Group’s key priorities had been to complete an £85million re-modelling of the West Kent College campus at Tonbridge that started three years ago. This required an extensive redesign.

Describing the project as the ‘single biggest investment in a college’ within the south east, Mr Lumsdon-Taylor said the first phase of works has now been completed.

This includes transferring the majority of West Kent College courses operating from its Tunbridge Wells site in North Farm to an interim technology building on its main Tonbridge campus, while the £30million new technology centre is developed over the next two years.

While its precise specifications have yet to be determined, some of the features are set to include sustainable emissions technology. There will also be other engineering equipment, such as robotic bricklaying gear and road rolling construction equipment, offering valuable practical training in preparing students for the workplace.

It is also expected there will be teaching facilities focused on the development of electronic and hybrid vehicles.

Mr Lumsdon-Taylor said: “The investment that has been made and plans for the technology centre are critical for the development of West Kent College.

“This has seen courses moved from Tunbridge Wells to the main campus in Tonbridge, as we want our students to benefit from high-quality facilities.”

According to the Finance Director, one of the key overall investments has been a million-pound upgrade to IT facilities that would prove critical for its students.

He stressed that consultation with residents over its plans was a strong priority for the group as the new technology centre takes shape at its Tonbridge site.

Mr Lumsdon-Taylor added: “With the completion of the first phase of development, we can now focus on the motor technology centre, and we felt that we had a duty of care to students in making this the best facility that it could possibly be.”

He also said the new facilities are being designed to offer students key skills that would fully prepare them for the workplace.

The new centre is expected to be fully operational by 2019.

Beverley Cleves, who is Assistant Principal, Student Support Services at the Hadlow Group, said that the extensive redevelopment plans had been a morale boost to staff, following a challenging period of restructuring the business.

She said: “Everyone at the college is 100 per cent behind what we are doing, which makes a difference as the members of staff are excited about the start of our new term this month, and we feel it’s going to be a good year.”

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