Walking around the hallways of East Brighton College of Media Arts it is difficult not to be reminded of an opening scene from blockbuster Titanic.

A wizened Kate Winslet describes her first impression stepping aboard the luxury liner: "I can still smell the fresh paint, the china had never been used, the sheets had never been slept in ... "

While it is hardly the Titanic, Comart has the same aura. And, like the doomed vessel, it looks set to sink before anyone has a chance to take off the wrappings.

Plans to close it because of falling pupil numbers, high truancy rates and poor exam results have gathered pace. Many, the city council included, are resigned to its fate.

What makes this relentless drive towards closure more tragic is the millions of pounds which continue to be poured into the school.

In the summer holidays, modern dance studios, production suites and drama rooms have all been built.

But not a single pupil has been able to use them because contractor Jarvis has yet to completely hand them over.

There is a whole suite of rooms barred to students with a heavy lock and chain.

Rehearsal rooms stand empty, mixing equipment lies dormant and big overhead studio lights have never been switched on.

The dance studio, with its polished wooden floor and mirrored wall, has never seen a performance, neither have the recording or drama studios.

New carpet lines the corridors and fresh paint covers the walls, while empty filing cabinets and the latest desks languish unused.

Even if pupils do get to use the new facilities, it may not be for very long because if the school does close, it will shut its doors for good in 2005.

Not for the first time the phrase "white elephant" has been bandied around. How could so much money have been spent on a school in such trouble?

At a recent public meeting, Liz Wylie, assistant director of the children, families and schools department at Brighton and Hove City Council, said: "What the council did was to take every step to make this school more attractive to parents.

"It was deemed failing in the late Nineties and renamed but was still put back into special measures.

"The council wanted to make this work so it went for the Fresh Start initiative, which was a massive investment in this school and there was investment in the fabric of the school to make it more attractive.

"It cost us money but it didn't have the desired effect."

One of the major stumbling blocks to keeping Comart open has been its poor reputation.

For many years the school has been labelled as failing, encouraging parents to send their children to other secondaries and driving pupil numbers down in a vicious cycle.

It is this reputation, more than anything, that has been Comart's undoing. Of course, there are problems with low exam results and some truancy but the silent majority of pupils are bright and articulate, keen to learn and proud of their school.

The school has a thriving dance team, which recently put on a lively show at the Gardner Arts Centre, but its members are worried about their futures.

Some described how the school was not as bad as people made out and that the few spoilt it for the many.

Others said they were worried about what would happen to them if the school was to close and feared it would affect their GCSEs.

Acting headteacher Karen Lees, who is on secondment for the next year from her post as deputy at Varndean, said she had been moved by the students' performance to recite Beautiful by Christina Aguilera, the lyrics of which suggest people are beautiful no matter what anyone else says.

The students said it accurately summed up how they felt about Comart and the way they were treated.

Ms Lees added it was a tragedy they were not able to yet use the new facilities but said she was hoping to get them opened up later in the school year.

The school was originally built in the early Seventies and many parts of the older buildings have undergone extensive refurbishment.

Its art department is doing well and its science labs are clean and modern. Outside, the pupils have the use of rugby pitches and several all-weather surfaces.

Contrary to popular belief, it is one of the best equipped secondary schools in Brighton and Hove, which makes it even more sad that it might have to close.

But it is not just the buildings which are remarkable, many of the students have continued to work well in the face of great uncertainty.

Walking round the school, I came across a few who were obviously bunking off lessons, the smell of cigarette smoke lingering around them.

But although there are problems with internal truanting, the pupils were swiftly dealt with by Ms Lees and the vast majority go to their lessons.

A number of students recently achieved levels seven and eight in their Key Stage 3 maths exams - the highest levels pupils can achieve.

Axel Abbott, 14, who travels from Hove every day to go to Comart, said: "It's not that bad but it is irritating when you see stuff about the school in the papers all the time.

"It isn't like that and just has a bad reputation. For me, it is one of the best schools around."

Several of the pupils mentioned the good relationships with teachers and the small class sizes.

With less than 500 students at the 850-place school, class sizes are about 15 and there is a feeling of space everywhere.

Some of the students are bussed to Varndean every week to take a GNVQ IT course and said they felt "squashed" there because of the numbers of pupils.

Vincent Clive, 14, who hopes to go on to university, said: "For me it's the closest school. I just have to walk up the hill but if I go elsewhere I will have to get the bus.

"The school is good and I think I'm getting a good education. It's just the same people over and over again who cause trouble."

Jodie Wrigley, 14, who wants to be a dancer or a barrister, added: "Everyone knows everyone and the school is a bit like a community.

"Even though I like going to Varndean, we just get squashed. It's more one-to-one learning here."

Ms Lees admitted she had been guilty of believing some of the stereotypes before coming to Comart but many of those myths had since been dispelled.

She said: "Quite a lot of the children are insecure and there is low self-esteem which has been built up over a period of time but they are incredibly friendly and supportive of one another and the staff.

"They are very committed to the school. All the educational processes are second to none. The staff are incredibly committed and the support staff are fantastic."

Ms Lees said she took the job believing there was a chance of turning things around and she still believes this is possible despite the threat of closure.

She said: "There have been lots of changes but the kids have managed to cope incredibly well, especially when you consider still hanging over their heads is what will happen to their school.

"They are very concerned, very involved and need to know what's happening. We talk about it openly and regularly, telling them the most important thing is to be proud about their achievements."

But some parents have already started to try to get their children moved to other schools and if a decision to close is made, more will follow and so, possibly, will staff.

Ms Lees said: "The most difficult part of my job has been trying to convince staff and students that we have still got a job to do and there is still a chance because some genuinely think what is the point.

"My job is about creating stability, consistency and raising morale of both students and staff so they feel good about being here."