A TREE has been planted to mark the start of a historic building project at a County Durham school.

Work is now underway to create a new 950-place school on the playing fields of King James I Academy, in Bishop Auckland.

When it is complete, in September next year, the two-storey building will replace the existing 1970s facilities, which will be demolished to make room for sports pitches.

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The Edwardian Grade II listed middle school building, a former girls' grammar school built in 1910, will be preserved and refurbished amid the changes.

King James I Academy was one of 27 schools across the North-East, Yorkshire and Humberside awarded cash from the government’s £2.4bn priority school building programme in May 2012.

Today (Friday, January 31), teachers, pupils, governors, dignitaries and representatives from the Education Funding Agency and construction firm, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, gathered to celebrate the milestone.

A tree was also planted to symbolise the start of a new chapter for the academy. 

Headteacher Nick Grieveson said the combination of the listed building and the new build would reflect the school’s rich heritage and commitment to creating a prosperous future.

“We feel it is a fantastic and exciting development for Bishop Auckland,” he said.

“King James has a long and significant history in the town and this project will create opportunities not just for the people who work here but for our young people.”