NEW SCHOOL FOR BROADFORD: Is the dream finally to become reality?

PLANNING AHEAD: School head teacher Stephen Atkins, Norma Morrison of the parent council, councillor John Finlayson, community councillor Hamish Fraser and Neil Hope, of the Broadford and Strath Community company at the display event in Broadford. Pic Willie Urquhart

Ambitious plans for a new school and community facilities in Broadford in Skye have gone on public display for the first time.

The Scottish Government – through its Learning Estate Investment Programme – pledged support for the new school in December 2020, following a campaign which was started by parents around a decade earlier.

As well as expanded classroom facilities, the plans – which the public viewed in Broadford Hall on 9th February – include a nursery and dining hall, while the proposed new campus will also incorporate a two badminton court-sized sports hall and a shared school and public library.

Alongside the school plan, community groups are also pursuing new and upgraded leisure facilities in and around the main building.

It is proposed the community would manage the sports-hall outside of school hours, while work is ongoing with Highland Council, sportscotland and the Scottish Government to develop a seven-a-side-size artificial sports pitch and changing pavilion.

Headteacher Stephen Atkins. Pic Willie Urquhart

The community and Broadford village hall committee also intend over time to improve and develop the existing village hall as part of the community campus.

The plans have been widely welcomed locally, but the crucial final funding package that will build the new school has yet be confirmed.

The eventual price tag will likely be much more than the £9.5-£11 million estimate predicted two years ago and the initial completion target date of 2024 will probably be pushed back.

However, Skye councillor John Finlayson, who also chairs the council’s education committee, remained optimistic that Broadford’s ambitions would be realised.

He said: “It was encouraging to see so many people , including many young people attend the public consultation around the new Broadford Primary School and community campus.

“There was a real buzz in the hall as people viewed the plans and passed on comments and observations.

“The Broadford community has waited patiently to see the project reach this stage.

“The partnership working that continues to take place between the council, community and other partners will hopefully continue to bear fruit – even at this hugely challenging time in terms of finance for any capital projects – so that the ambitions for a school and community campus that will be transformational for people of all ages in Broadford and the whole of south Skye, becomes a reality.”

Broadford, along with a replacement school for Nairn Academy, was announced as part two of the Scottish Government’s £1 billion learning estate investment programme – with a new 3-18 campus for Tain confirmed in stage one.

Highland Council was due to agree its latest capital budget at a special meeting on 1st February  – but this meeting was cancelled pending more detail on the available LEIP funds.

Due to spiralling material and energy costs, inflationary pressures and a hike in the costs of borrowing, it is expected that many projects contained within the 15 year capital programme published by the council in late 2021 will be axed, delayed or scaled down.

But Broadford parents and community leaders believe their plans are too far advanced, and their case for investment too strong, for any late disappointment.

Local MP Kate Forbes offered encouragement to the Broadford cause, when she said: “After years of slogging away to get a new school for the village, it was a tangible step forward to see plans for the new community campus on display and for folk to be able to contribute their thoughts.

“It has been a colossal effort to get to this point. 

“While I do appreciate that there are heightened pressures on the council’s budget, as is the case for everyone at the moment, thanks to Scottish Government funding I fully expect the new Broadford Primary to be open in August 2025.

“Councillor John Finlayson has also been working hard to ensure that Highland Council capital funding allocated for Broadford is not spent elsewhere.”

The shoddy state of the existing primary school in the village has been highlighted in the Free Press on numerous occasions and has been the subject of years of campaigning.

In recent years parents have conducted surveys which revealed a third of the school’s pupils had experienced breathing problems, which they put down to damp classroom conditions.

Article by Keith MacKenzie