A WANTAGE secondary school is set to become the first academy in the country to take out a loan.

In a deal which is the first of its kind, King Alfred's Academy said the Department for Education has agreed to lend it £5.5m to build a new science block.

The £6m building will give the 1,800-pupil school the extra capacity at its Centre Site to achieve its long-held ambition of selling off its East Site in Springfield Road and moving down to two sites, along with its West Site on Challow Road.

Simon Spiers, chief executive of the Vale Academy Trust which runs King Alfred's, said he had received a letter from the DfE confirming its intention last week.

The Department refused to publicly confirm the deal, but said it was "working with the school" to provide support and advice.

The school plans to build the new science block on the site of the former church school next to Centre Site which it acquired more than a decade ago.

With 10 laboratories and nine classrooms, the building will have a capacity for approximately 570 children – more than triple the size of the existing science block which has just six classrooms.

But before it gets the loan, the school will have to win planning permission to build 150 homes on East Site so it can sell that to a developer for an estimated £11m which will pay back the £5.5m.

That decision is due to be made at a meeting tonight in Wantage.

Mr Spiers said: "It's going to be a state-of-the-art science and teaching block ready for decades to come.

"We've been working on this for ages and now we will be the first academy trust in the country to receive this type of loan, so we are really excited."

The old science block will be demolished to create a large plaza in the middle of Centre Site.

King Alfred's won planning permission to build the new science block in September, although not without controversy:

Wantage Town Council initially objected to the plans, with councillors worried the laboratories could create "obnoxious fumes" which could drift over neighbouring homes.

The school's plans to turn East Site into housing estate which have been more controversial.

Some 55 neighbours have objected to the plans, calling them an "overdevelopment" of the site, but Wantage Town Council has said it approves.

Vale planning officers have recommended the planning committee to approve the scheme, providing the developer can offer to contribute sufficient monies towards improving local infrastructure such as roads to mitigate the effects of hundreds of new residents in the town.

Tonight's meeting at The Beacon in Wantage will begin at 6.30pm and members of public are welcome to attend.

King Alfred's has already built two new buildings on Centre Site to increase capacity – a £3.5m restaurant and teaching block opened in December and a £750,000 refurbished creative arts block.

In a separate tranche of funding, the Vale Academy Trust has also just secured a £3m capital works grant from the DfE's Educational Funding Agency to refurbish King Alfred's four-storey block on Centre Site over the next two years.