High school: debate goes on
By RYAN TAYLOR
ALMOST 20 years after the SIC first began talking in earnest about a new Anderson High School for Lerwick, councillors were still debating where the new school should be built yesterday.
Members of the services committee voted to press ahead with existing plans to build the development on the Knab site when they met at the Town Hall, but not before a number of members voiced their support for alternative sites to be examined.
It comes as the long-running project faces its latest delay. Despite an agreement by councillors in June to apply for planning permission by the end of December, the application is now not expected to be lodged until March next year.
In a progress report before members, council executive director of education and social care Hazel Sutherland said having an application in to the planning department before next year would be done on “a very challenging timescale”.
She said a revised programme aiming to have a planning application submitted by March 2009 would not “significantly impact on the construction period”.
Councillors heard discussions over replacing the dilapidated Anderson High had been taking place since as far back as 1991, with successive councils consistently failing to move the project to fruition.
Standing in for chairman Gussie Angus, Shetland Central member Betty Fullerton reminded the committee council policy was to build on the Knab.
“This has been going on since 1991, and from some folks’ memories the early 70s. Successive councils have struggled with this and we have to decide, as a council, to get on with it.”
Admitting there were “big gaps” in information members would have liked to see, she said pupils at the school had to come first.
“Education of the children that’s going to go there has to be the first priority, and anything that’s going to detract from that we will have to look at very seriously.”
Lerwick South member Cecil Smith moved to press on with plans to build the school at the Knab.
“I move we consider getting on with this. Since being elected in 2007, twice there has been a democratic decision made in this chamber. We should build on the Knab.”
He was seconded by convener Sandy Cluness, who said he realised “timescales are short, but it’s the children who count”.
A notice of amendment was put forward by fellow councillor Jonathan Wills, who said the door should not be shut on alternative sites for the school if the Knab proved too expensive.
“We should approve the report with the proviso we don’t exclude other sites if the Knab proves to be too costly. It doesn’t matter where it’s built, as long as it is built soon and within budget.
“There is one other consideration that’s important – and that’s cost. The Charitable Trust will provide it, but that’s £5 million a year out of the capital programme. We’ll have to think a lot about what to leave out.”
He highlighted concerns over the risk to pupils as asbestos in the crumbling school walls is treated during the construction phase, and said he had yet to see a study into the effect of decanting pupils and staff from the school.
That gained support from Shetland Central member Iris Hawkins, who seconded Dr Wills’ amendment.
She said the question of decanting would be a “terrible disruption” for pupils, and said councillors needed to examine the possibility of a new location altogether.
“I’m in favour of moving away from the present site because it’s going to be more and more disruptive for pupils.”
Councillor Allan Wishart said a report before members on site selection left “too many questions” unanswered.
He said the report was contradictory, particularly over access to a possible site at Seafield.
“The report is comprehensive but it has been written under pressure and in a hurry.
“I’m reluctant to mention it but the report doesn’t inspire confidence in what has happened so far.”
He said consultation had to be a key priority with residents affected by any new build.
“Consultation to my reading consists of telling people what has been decided and when it’s going to happen. Consultation should take place before and during the process.”
Shetland West member Florence Grains said she had council papers going back years, and said members were “going round and round in circles” over the whole project.
“I wonder how long we’re going to have staff and pupils suffering while we wait as costs go through the roof.”
Hazel Sutherland told members the new school would face a delay of “18 months to two years” if councillors decided to choose another site.
Shetland North member Bill Manson said the reason the school always faced delays was because the council over the years kept changing its mind.
“A lot of the blame lies at this table, because we’ve just kept on changing our minds. I understand steel prices may be falling at the moment but in every situation delay means inflation.
“Of course we have difficulties and a relationship to maintain with residents around the Knab, but you’ll only have a new set of relationships to build up if you move to a different area. I still believe the decision we have been working on since 2003/04 is the right one.”
He added the council “would not hesitate to change its mind” if the cost of building started to rise to insufferable levels, “but delaying the work means extra cost”.
In the end, the vote went against Mr Wills by 10 votes to nine.
But not before Shetland West member Gary Robinson criticised plans to appoint a project manager for the school’s development.
Because of stringent rules over how long the advert for the post has to be placed in the European Journal, the project manager will not be appointed until December.
“We’re sitting here making decisions. By the time December comes around we’ll not have a project manager, we’ll have a clerk of works.”