x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

$3m windfall means school can go ahead on new site

One of the capital's oldest private schools yesterday announced plans to double its capacity.

ABU DHABI // One of the capital's oldest private schools yesterday announced plans to double its capacity by opening a new campus, a move that could help ease a crisis in school places. The American Community School (ACS), which opened in 1972, has long been regarded as one of Abu Dhabi's best private schools but the city's surging expatriate community has made it increasingly difficult for parents to obtain places for their children there.

Schools have not kept up with the UAE's population, which nearly doubled from 2.4 million to 4.1 million in the 10 years to 2005. At the most sought-after private schools in Abu Dhabi, there are, as of last year, ten or more applicants for every place. However, that could ease as the result of a US$3 million (Dh11m) gift from Lockheed Martin, the American defence contractor, which has enabled the ACS to go ahead with the new site, which will eventually accommodate another 1,000 children.

The new campus, which is due to open in September 2011, will be on four hectares in the Arzanah development near Zayed Sports City. The present site, in Khalidiya, will accommodate the elementary school. The school has 980 pupils at present, and has routinely had to turn families away for the past few years. "We feel this is a major milestone," said the superintendent, Dr George Robinson, yesterday. "It is really a significant thing that Lockheed Martin has done."

Because private schools are not entitled to government funding, they must raise money independently to pay for expansion. "Lockheed Martin's goal is to be a good corporate partner in the UAE," Robert Stevens, chairman, president and chief executive, said in a statement. Dr Robinson said that although the Lockheed Martin contribution would not cover the whole cost of the project, which will come to US$75m, it did mean that "now we will be able to start our detailed planning".

The school will be financed largely through loans and corporate contributions. Dr Robinson said the Government had been "very generous" in allocating the land, which it has provided on a long-term lease. He said one key reason why the ACS had decided to expand was so that the school could continue to cater for the international community. "We are a non-profit school that serves the American community. We could keep the school just the size it is and still serve all the Americans, but that means that we would not have all the Emiratis that we have or the other international kids that we have.

"The only way we could stay international was to grow." When the new school opens two years from now, Dr Robinson expects it to solve the demand problem - at least "until the growth of Abu Dhabi catches up - I think this will put us ahead of the curve."
klewis@thenational.ae