A church has revealed plans to transform the site of a historic Bradford school into a new college building and accommodation block.

Wapping Road School opened in 1877 and was the first school in the country to have its own swimming pool. It later played a central role in Margaret and Rachel McMillan’s efforts to improve conditions of children in the country’s schools.

It shut in 2000 and in recent years the Grade II listed building has suffered arson attacks and vandalism that has left the building a shell.

LIFE Church, in Wapping Road, has applied for planning permission to demolish much of the derelict school buildings. In its place it will build a two-storey educational building with rehearsal space and a neighbouring 90-bed three-storey student accommodation building.

Some parts of the historic building will be used in the new development.

The church says around 2,000 people worship at the current site every week, and that thousands more come from around the country to attend conferences.

The centre is also home to LIFE Church College, which is “designed to equip men and women for leadership in every sphere of life and for Christian ministry”.

The church says that students attend the college from all over the world. But they say more space is needed to help the college grow, including adding new creative and media space and on-site accommodation for visiting students.

Wapping School opened in 1877 to cater for the educational needs of a close-knit but poor neighbourhood and went on to receive commendation from HM Inspector of Schools.

The school created national and international headlines at the time with the help of education campaigner Margaret McMillan and her push to improved the lot of children in the state system.

Her influence helped bring the country’s first school swimming pool to Wapping Road. The pool, measuring 14 metres by five metres, was also the first swimming pool in Bradford.

The building closed as a school in 2000, and was then hit by vandalism and a series of fires, with the roof being damaged and most of the interior features destroyed over the years.

The building is now a shell of its former self, blighted by vandalism and frequented by drug users.

In 2004 plans to convert the building into apartments were approved, but work never began.

The church’s application says: “The scheme provides a unique opportunity to redevelop a site that has fallen into a dilapidated state. Given the prohibitive costs to reorder the existing facilities, and the inappropriate size and layout of the current accommodation, the proposal is for the existing building to be demolished and a new purpose-built facility constructed in its place.

“Our vision is for the site to play a full role in the local community.”

The application adds: “Where possible, existing features from the existing buildings will be retained and incorporated within the proposals.

“The extent of this will be determined after the trees and plants that have taken over the building are cleared, the building is made safe and a survey can be undertaken.

“The historic impact that Margaret and Rachel McMillan had within our city cannot be denied. Their persistence in the sphere of child education and welfare to affect change for the deprived and disenfranchised resulting in legislative changes are also values that we adhere to and fight for as a church, and ones that we intend to continue developing as we seek to develop the site.

“We fervently believe that both in practice and in spirit, through each element of these carefully considered developments, the legacy established in the area by the McMillan sisters and the Wapping Road School will continue to be immortalised through the on-going work of LIFE Church.”

Church Pastor Steve Gambill said: “At LIFE Church we are as committed as ever to provide for the spiritual and practical needs of our city.

“We have been serving Bradford for many years and this development will be a great asset to our community as we continue to help as many people as possible.”

Alan Hall, vice-chair of Bradford Civic Society, said: “Speaking on a personal level, I think that as long as it can be put to reasonable use, and this type of use by the church is a reasonable use, then good luck to them.

“The building is a big part of Bradford’s Victorian heritage, it was one of the earliest Board Schools after the 1870 Act and had the first school swimming bath in Britain.

“I’d rather see something done with it rather than for it to fall into further ruin. I hope they use as much of the existing building as they can.

“It would be nice if they could put some sort of plaque on the new building that remembers its history.”

A decision on the planning application is expected in late May.