Calls have been made for the Council and the SEELB to transfer the former Hilden Primary School building to the local community after it became a target for arsonists.
The historic building has been lying empty since the closure of the school in 2008 and local residents have repeatedly expressed concern about vandalism at the site.
The latest incident occurred on Tuesday, August 18, when two youths broke into the building and attempted to set a fire.
Local MLA Jonathan Craig said that without a quick response from the local community and the police, the building could have been ‘destroyed’.
Mr Craig said, “Since the closure of the Old Hilden School several years ago, there had been several issues of anti-social behaviour on the site.
“Only for the prompt action of the PSNI who caught two young people trying to set fire to the building last week, we would now be facing the prospect of this building being destroyed and lost for future community use.
“I would also like to commend members of Lisburn Safe and Hilden Community Association who were also quickly on the scene.”
Mr Craig added: “For the past number of years Hilden Community Association, with the support of Resurgam Trust, have been working closely with the Council and the SEELB to have this building transferred to the community.
“In the light of this recent incident, I would urge the Council and the SEELB, to step up their efforts, so that the history and character of this wonderful building is not lost and we can once again see this old building being restored and used by the people, young and old, from the Hilden area.”
Trish McCormick, Chairperson of Hilden Community Association also called for the building to be made available for community use as soon as possible.
“We have been in talks with Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council for many a month now. It is a long process to have the South Eastern Education Library Board to sign over the building. Because it is a Listed Building it needs to be done properly.
“The building has been lying derelict and there have been a series of break-ins. We’ve heard that people have been in the building and have stripped it, there has been drinking and anti-social behaviour.
“In this latest incident the Fire Service were on the scene quickly, or it could have been a lot worse.
“The building needs to be secured properly,” Trish commented. “It will be a valuable building for our community when we finally get it.
“We have youth groups here and we have to meet in a small flat. Any course we hold we have to go to another community association’s building to do them. It was the same for our AGM, we had to go elsewhere.
“The grounds of the school are lovely, there’s a lovely garden. We planted a community garden last year with a mosaic, we had Fort Hill Primary School down to help, doing something at the school building would be marvellous, we could do so much more on a bigger scale.
“This is badly needed for the community in the local area. We have a lovely park but we do lack a community facility.
“We need the council to get this sorted out quickly. A community facility is badly needed for the area and for our youth, this is something they really need.”
Referring to the recent arson attack, a Police spokesperson confirmed: “At approximately 5.25pm on Tuesday August 18, Police responded to a call from a member of the public that criminal damage had been caused to the old Hilden Primary School. They also reported that someone had attempted to light a fire. The Fire Service also attended.
“Two people, both born in 1998, were cautioned for Arson, burglary and criminal damage. They were both brought back to Lisburn Police Station, where their parents were spoken to.”
A Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service spokesperson said: “Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) received a call at 6.01pm to a report of a fire at derelict premises at the Bridge Street, Hilden area on Tuesday August 18.
“Two Fire Appliances from Lisburn Fire Station were deployed to the scene of a rubbish fire in the area.
“The incident finished at 6.45pm and is being treated as a deliberate fire.”