Students already enrolled on a course will be told next week they do not have a place for the year – as a college building is being bulldozed.

We can reveal South Thames College (STC) is set to undergo a multimillion redevelopment of two buildings within its Merton campus one year earlier than planned, resulting in a number of staff redundancies and a suspension of studies for two groups of catering students.

The college will spend £6m on transforming its “dilapidated” engineering block into a new catering block and restaurant, in partnership with Bruno Loubet, a top French chef.

The current catering block will also make way for a new unit for 25 students with certain special educational needs (Sen), after the college was given a £1.3m grant from Wandsworth Council.

It means Wandsworth Sen students will be prioritised above Merton residents.

One mother, who did not want to be named, said her 17-year-old son was “stressed out” after hearing rumours the catering block was being closed down, but had not been officially told he would have to go to another college next year.

She said: “I think it is disgraceful they are waiting a month before term starts to tell students they have to go somewhere else next year.

“It is bang out of order. My son went to Carshalton College last week, but they said they had no spaces left on their catering course. He’s tearing his hair out.”

Sue Rimmer, the principal and chief executive, said a “small handful” of staff were at risk of redundancy, but the college could not tell students until the redundancies were completed next week.

Ms Rimmer explained the sudden news came about because they only recently knew about the grant award from Wandsworth council and, since it has to be spent by March 2013, the redevelopment work had to be brought forward a year earlier than planned.

She said: “We will actively find the nearest college and ask them to make arrangements for taking on students. It is not uncommon for colleges to do this.

“This is a really exciting project for the college to replace a dilapidated old building, which is falling apart, and continue to invest in our future.

“Unfortunately there are some small things you have to do to grasp some greater opportunities going forward.”

It is understood the equivalent of 4.3 staff are at risk of redundancy, including full-time catering lecturers, a full-time catering technician, and two part-time catering technicians.

But the college admitted it has not told its students the redevelopment work, which starts in September, will make its catering block unusable for students who are supposed to be continuing their NVQ professional cookery studies.

A Wandsworth Council spokesman said STC’s Wandsworth campus was thought to be unsuitable and £1.3m would be spent on redeveloping the building. 

The cost of teaching the 24 students with learning difficulties will be come out of normal education budgets.

He added: "The council is working with South Thames College to expand further education provision for young adults with the most significant special education needs and complex medical problems.

"We are hoping to provide these new classes at the college's campus in Morden which will offer ideal accommodation for this specialist type of provision following our significant investment in the site.

"This is good news for local families who have older children with special needs. Currently many young adults who want to access these services must travel to Wallington, which is the nearest location for these classes.

"Our aim is to provide this service much closer to home in partnership with a very good college that provides top quality teaching."

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