Hopes are high that a new school in Broadford will be delivered by 2021.
Highland councillors have agreed that the dilapidated Skye building must be included as a top priority in the local authority’s new schools investment plan.
The full meeting of the council which took place earlier this month was held to finalise the priority of need for the Highland school estate ahead of fresh Scottish Government funding expected later this year.
Members agreed that the proposed Tain 3-18 campus project be nominated as Highland Council’s priority for consideration in the first phase of the Scottish Government’s new schools investment programme.
A second priority for funds to provide a new campus at Broadford in the next phase of school infrastructure investment was also established – with a pledge included to try to achieve it within the next two years.
Broadford parents have long campaigned for improved facilities, arguing that the current buildings are a health hazard to children and staff.
Over the past five years the Free Press has reported about buildings that leak, unclad ‘temporary classrooms’, asbestos fears and a survey carried out by the school’s parent council which found that almost a third of pupils had been diagnosed with respiratory illnesses.
The vote on Thursday 22nd August was hailed as progress at last for Broadford, although other projects desperate for funds could face further delays.
Last year Broadford had been named on a list of 11 school developments the council would like to see progress, though the authority said it would need a major capital investment from Holyrood to allow it to do so. The list has now been rationalised to place Tain at the top, with Broadford next in line.
The meeting heard voices of discontent that more concrete pledges of investment could not yet be made for other areas in need. LibDem councillor Angela MacLean, who represents the Dingwall and Seaforth ward, said it was as if the council had “found a pound but lost ten”.
However, members agreed to seek to secure funding to provide a replacement school for Nairn Academy through a bid to a further, larger, phase of investment from the schools investment programme, in conjunction with a planned refresh of the council’s own capital programme.
They also agreed to begin consultations on a replacement for Dingwall’s St Clement’s School – which caters for pupils with additional needs – later this year.
In Broadford, it is the first time a timescale has been attached to a project parents have been campaigning for over several years.
A site – at the far end of the football pitch to where the current school lies – has been identified, and a community group formed to investigate including additional hub facilities including a service point, library and nursery on the same campus.
Norma Morrison, from Broadford Primary Parent Council, said: “The parent council representatives are thrilled with this milestone leap forward and look forward to continuing their efforts on this exciting project for Broadford and Strath.”
Local MSP Kate Forbes said: “A new school doesn’t happen overnight, and local councillor John Finlayson, the parent council and myself have all been working closely for years to drive things forward.
“There is still a lot of work to be done, but it is excellent news that Highland Council has committed to building a new campus in Broadford and we’re heading in the right direction.
“I look forward to further announcements from the council about this exciting multi-million-pound project, and it’s good to see there is an end goal of 2021 in sight.”
Councillor Finlayson, who chairs the care, learning and housing committee, said: “Following last week’s special meeting it is encouraging to see that the current councillors from across the authority have recognised the poor state of Broadford Primary School and have agreed it is the council’s number two priority for a new build project.
“Parents and the community have long recognised this and are now anxious, as I am, to move forward the next phase of discussions and development to ensure we get a new school built as soon as possible.
“Given the aspirations of the community to create a community hub and also support the development of housing, which all align themselves to the criteria contained in the Scottish Government’s learning estate strategy, I would hope that all stakeholders can get round the table very soon to move things forward.”
Council chief executive Donna Manson said: “It has been made clear that the initial phase of projects must meet all the criteria set out in the Scottish Government’s learning estate strategy.
“In essence, phase one is about innovation. It is not simply about replacing a school in poor condition, it is about delivering a transformational place-based strategy and making the most of our public-sector resource. Tain fulfils all criteria to a much greater extent than any other of the 11 projects that the Council agreed in June 2019.”
Last November the Scottish Government committed £1 billion for rebuilding and refurbishing schools – though councils have since been told that only a small number of projects would benefit from the initial phase, with a larger phase of investment within the next 12 months.
The report before last week’s meeting noted that Scottish Government funding commitments will be just half of what the council had originally hoped for.
Dunvegan Primary on Skye is one of the other projects identified on the council’s 11-strong list. A phased new build approach has been recommended for Dunvegan, with £1.5 million already secured with help from the Scottish Government’s early learning and childcare expansion programme.
Article by Keith MacKenzie.