A Highland Council report last week admitted that work was required to improve facilities at Broadford Primary School on Skye. KEITH MACKENZIE finds out why…
Some minor roof repairs were being carried out at Broadford Primary School last week — the sight of workmen all too familiar to headmaster Gordon Wyness in the 32 years since he arrived to take up the post at the Skye school in 1982.
In that time he has seen the school — by some distance Skye’s second-largest primary — repaired, patched up and extended. Yet the prospect of a brand new facility has, so far, remained elusive.
“We’ve been dodging buckets for years,” he says, making reference to the measures required to prevent water ingress at the 94-pupil school.
The roll at Broadford Primary — a dual-language school where 44 pupils are educated in the Gaelic-medium department — is forecast, on current trends, to go up to around 120 within the next five years.
Work on a new school was something Mr Wyness had hoped to see happen before the time came for him to retire. He’s since given up hope of that, and admits to feeling a little frustrated that “a paint job in the corridor” is about as much improvement as the school is likely to receive in the immediate future.
“The council came to look at the site, and at one point we did think that there would be two new schools built on the island — one at Dunvegan and one in Broadford. But at the moment, I’m not aware of any plans for investment in Broadford. We are just ploughing on as we have done for many years.”
Concerns over the condition and suitability of Broadford Primary have persisted ever since the school was built in 1975. Within a year of the new campus opening, the Free Press was reporting that the school was too small. By 1976 what was intended to be the school dining hall had become a classroom, while further small extensions and the erection of “temporary” demountable huts have gradually eaten into playground space.
The school has no gym or library, while car parking arrangements — the space shared with the local hall — have long been a source of concern.
This week Highland Council would not allow the Free Press access to the school to take photographs in order to illustrate the sources of parental frustration.
But we can report that a paper which went before Highland Council’s education, children and adult services committee last week suggested Broadford was one of a list of Highland schools which should be considered for future investment. Broadford has been identified as a school in “class C” condition — a grading rated as “poor” with regard to the state of the buildings and the suitability of facilities for an expanding school roll.
In the most recent rankings of its primary estate, the local authority ranked Broadford 166th out of 178 schools. But last week’s report — compiled by senior education officials — stresses that “at this stage there is no guarantee there will be any capital investment in any of these schools”.
For now, at least, the council’s vision for new schools in Skye looks like extending to two projects. One of them is a new school in Dunvegan — the price of which would be the closure of three smaller primaries in north-west Skye. The other is a £13 million development to create the island’s first dedicated all-Gaelic primary school in Portree.
Broadford parents feel it is time their case moved up the list of council priorities.
Parent Council secretary Norma Morrison, who is a mother of four, described the current conditions at Broadford as a “disgrace”.
Speaking on behalf of the parent council, she said: “The only improvement we can see is knocking it down and starting again.
“Broadford Primary was too small when it was built in 1975. It is still too small. We don’t have enough classrooms so we have demountable units away from the ‘main’ school, and we have no gym and no library. Our school gym is the village hall which the council have to pay handsomely for.
“Through the winter (and summer months) the children frequently get soaked leaving the main school to get to other classes or their gym class.
“Our car park, at the designated entrance, is non-existent and we have to use the village hall car park. The road up to the school is not fit for purpose and has no safety measures in place.
“Whoever it is who decides how much we do or don’t need a new school needs to come to Broadford on a rainy day. Watch out for the buckets as you walk around the school. The huge amount of money spent on ‘fixing’ the roof has been wasted, and how much more money will be wasted on ‘improvements’?”
She added: “We would love to see Broadford Primary, its pupils and staff, in the environment it deserves. There is potential to change the entrance of the school. The new football pitch is already adding more parking and the village hall has plans to develop the road and parking further. We would love to see all parties involved come together with the necessary bodies to improve facilities and safety for the good of the community and most of all for the children in our community.
“We, the Broadford Primary Parent Council, beg the council to see sense and recommend the only reasonable course of action and build a new school.”
Local council member Hamish Fraser sympathised with the parents’ wishes. He suggested that an idea to create a new school at the centre of a “community hub” would be worth pursuing, noting that local groups had already taken the lead.
Near to the school campus, work recently started on a new sports pitch in a project being led by Sleat and Strath Football Club. In the last decade other community groups have helped to deliver a multi-use games area and playground.
The tentative “community hub” plan did also include an idea to relocate the village’s library and service point — although whether Broadford retains these facilities at all will be governed by the council’s ongoing review of service point provision across the Highlands.
“Something has to be done, and it might be a case where we have to spend to save for the long term,” Councillor Fraser added. “We all recognise there is a problem, and we have to keep pushing to investigate the potential for the school area to become a community hub that will include service point and library facilities.
“The condition Broadford school is in must make it in high contention for, at the very least, a major investment. The school has to be fit for purpose and a safe and secure environment.
“Schools don’t come cheap, but neither can the health and safety of local children.”
School project costs can vary. But in line with similar-sized schemes in Aviemore and for the Portree Gaelic School, it’s unlikely a new school in Broadford would be delivered for any less that £8 million according to Councillor Alasdair Christie, who chairs the education, children and adult services committee.
The Inverness Ness-side member insisted, however, that the council was committed to upgrading school facilities. He said a further assessment of Broadford was part of a plan to examine the conditions at 17 Highland primaries, each of which would be looked at “on its own merits”.
Councillor Christie said: “As we have seen with the case of Inverness Royal Academwy, it was deemed 18 months ago that it was not suitable and a new build was the only way ahead.
“Other schools, like Central Primary School in Inverness, have had extensions put on their current building. It varies from school to school.”
He added: “The council is actively investigating the school estate. That can be evidenced in the work done to date at Lochaber High, Aviemore Primary, in Wick and at Inverness Royal Academy.
“The council is fully committed to providing a 21st century school estate, and work on this will continue.”
Councillor Hamish Fraser, and Broadford parents Rosie Woodhouse, Norma Morrison, Kirsten Breen and Natasha Hamilton, are pictured above at the school. This was as close as the Free Press was allowed to get to photograph the much-criticised school buildings.