News of the relocation of the University of Cyprus’ architecture school in the historic Phaneromeni school was widely welcomed on Friday with optimism that it would help revive the area in Nicosia’s old town.

However, opposition was voiced by one group of teachers concerned that the move could ultimately lead to the closure of the primary school currently housed in the building, and the marginalisation of the migrant children who go there.

The university department’s relocation is expected after extensive work is carried out on the 19th century building for structural upgrades and to earthquake-proof it, but also to create the necessary space, studios and teaching rooms for the students and instructors. The renovation cost is estimated at around €5m.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) has already been prepared following consultations between the university, the finance ministry, Nicosia municipality and the archbishopric which owns the building. It is expected to be signed soon.

According to Rector of the University of Cyprus, Professor Tasos Christofides, the relocation “will revive the old part of the town.”

Christofides told the Cyprus Mail that the part of the memorandum concerning the university is the relocation of the architecture school to the Phaneromeni building. The university’s architecture school is already housed in another building in the old part of the town but is not considered ideal. The ministry of finance will rent the Phaneromeni school facilities from the archbishopric on behalf of the university for a large period. Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides told media the agreement concerns a 33-year-old lease.

The university rector said the presence of an architecture school in the old part of the town but also of academics with strong interest in town planning among other things, would encourage others in the area to redevelop other buildings.

Christofides said he had initially suggested the relocation to the Phaneromeni school to the Archbishop some two years ago, but it was only recently, with encouragement from others that the vision was becoming a reality.

Other aspects of the MoU concern the renovation of other buildings in the area to create student dorms. This will be implemented either by the archbishopric or others.

The move was also welcomed by the Nicosia tourism board and the Nicosia Chamber of Commerce and Industry that said in a joint statement that this was an important development for the upgrade of the old town.

“This is an extremely important decision capable of drastically changing the economic and social conditions in the area,” they said. The relocation of the architecture school, they said, “highlights in the best possible way one of the most beautiful and important buildings within the walls” the Phaneromeni school. At the same time, they said, it will boost the area’s recovery, since it will attract young people, who, in their turn, will attract private investment that will revitalise the area.

Nicosia Mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis told Radio Proto on Friday that the architectural school’s relocation as part of the wider plans for the redevelopment of the old part of the city. Incentives and financial support will be given to companies to relocate to the city within the walls, the mayor said. He added there is already mobility from businesses after the redevelopment of the main streets of old Nicosia from the Paphos Gate to Ermou Street.

But a group of teachers, Proodeftiki teachers’ movement, voiced their opposition to the move, arguing that it will lead to the closure of the historic schools of Phaneromeni, established in 1852, and which today operate as public schools, “covering the vital needs of many vulnerable children in the area and their families.” They also said this would lead to marginalisation of vulnerable groups and called for other solutions.

Mostly children of migrants attend the school today.

Christofides, however, believes that the presence of the university school there will, on the contrary, help migrants better integrate into society.

“The presence of young, open-minded people in the aera will help integrate migrants into society,” he said. The rector said the university wants the architecture school’s presence to be a catalyst for integration of migrants in the area.

“It is a win-win situation,” he said. The rector said that several children of migrants are now studying at the University of Cyprus.

Yiorkadjis said there were many other schools in the area that could take in the pupils from the Phaneromeni school if necessary.

There has not been yet any information on when the school will close. A source within the education ministry said they were expecting to be officially informed of this agreement by the stakeholders.