Barra in the dark over new school ‘hub’

Barra residents are worried about the lack of information regarding the possible relocation of secondary pupils from Castlebay Community School.

Residents in Barra are concerned that no information has come from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar about the possible relocation of secondary pupils during the construction of a new school in Castlebay.

Under plans unveiled early last year by the comhairle a combined hospital and secondary school ‘hub’, costing an estimated £44 million, is due to be built on the current school site.

However, according to local campaigner Jessie MacNeil, the hub plan involves the closure of the island’s only other school, Eoiligarry primary, which is 11 miles away. It also means that the nearby Barra Children’s Centre will move to the new hub “without the recommended green space”.

However, it is the relocation of the 100-plus pupils from the existing school that is causing the most anxiety. Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has been in touch with the comhairle about local concerns and when officials plan to consult the community.

Alasdair Allan MSP has contacted the comhairle following local concerns.

Mrs MacNeil said: “Months on from the approval for the hub, there are only rumours here about relocation, which range from Craigston [primary school] and Eoiligarry school, Lionacleit Secondary School, or Castlebay Hall.

“There appears to be no intention of building a temporary school adjacent to the site. I do think these need to be consulted on.

“I would also say that to date there has been no further consultation about the home and the hospital and we appear likely to lose our public library.

“When will the public consultation and community involvement happen? As a community, we are first on the list of consultees, and must be recognised as such, not handed a set of plans further down the road and told that this is what we are getting.”

She was also concerned that the comhairle and NHS Western Isles are five months late with the submission of the final business case for the hub.

In response to Free Press inquiries, a comhairle statement said:

  • Pre-school provision will have a green space.
  • Decant for school pupils during construction is currently being planned and will include a mixture of utilising existing buildings, temporary modular units and shared facilities where appropriate; in each case seeking to provide a positive legacy for the wider community when no longer required on completion of the new facility
  • The new school will continue to have a public library or learning resource centre.
  • The decision to adopt Option 1 as the preferred option was approved by the comhairle in November 2019 and NHS Western Isles announced in December 2019 its unanimous decision to accept Option 1b. Work is currently ongoing to refine the project scope and estimated cost with the intention of making a formal approach to the Scottish Government in April 2020.
  • We have a statutory duty to consult on the closure of Eoligarry School and will initiate that shortly.  However, previous dialogue had led to agreement with parents that the school would close when the new school was built, on the basis, I retained Eoligarry until this was done.

A comhairle spokesman added: “There has never been a suggestion that the new facility would provide less than what exists and the decision to move forward on an integrated basis has now been taken.

“Governance structures for the implementation of this new project are currently being finalised and provision is being made within this structure for engagement with all relevant stakeholders.

“Guth Bharraigh will be provided regular updates on progress on at least a monthly basis and they are currently working with us to provide a question and answer section within future publications.”

Article by Michael Russell.