School building is ‘past its shelf life’ warns head teacher
By PAUL RIDDELL
The appalling condition of the Anderson High School was revealed in detail by headteacher Valerie Nicolson this week after she was forced to shut the building last Friday due to the latest in a damaging series of leaks from rusting pipes.
At a time when many senior pupils are preparing for crucial prelim exams, the closure provoked renewed demands for work to begin on a replacement building as soon as possible. The council is due to submit a planning application for a new £49 million school at the Knab in the spring.
In the past few years, the school has increasingly been plagued by incidents that require urgent and often expensive repairs, but senior council officials believe the situation reached a critical stage last week because it had a direct and detrimental effect on children’s education.
At the request of The Shetland Times, Ms Nicolson agreed to be interviewed about the situation. She said: “It is with regret that I am having to comment on the state of our school building. The Anderson High School is a very good school with a very high quality of teaching and resources.
“It is extremely frustrating that the condition of this building is not only restricting but is now inhibiting us from doing the work that we would want to do. The age and condition of this building are too much. It is beyond repair and maintenance. It is past its shelf life.”
She was, however, at pains to point out to parents that the 800 pupils were still being taught in a safe environment. “I am anxious to re-assure families that the school will continue to deliver a high quality of education for our young folk. In spite of the ongoing issue that we face health and safety is always a top priority.”
With class five and class six prelims looming, shutting the school was the last thing Ms Nicolson wanted to do but she was left with no option when very hot water from the corroded iron pipe ran into the main hall last Wednesday night.
Council plumbers, who are regular visitors to the school, were unable to isolate that section of the old heating system and in order to carry out repairs were forced to turn it off entirely.
Ms Nicolson was told that it would take three days to let the heating cool down to a safe level, complete the work and turn it back on again to check for further possible faults. The affected area was cordoned off to allow pupils to attend on the Thursday and the school closed on the Friday. It re-opened again on Monday morning.
It is only the second time that the school has had to close due to such a problem. On 4th March last year, pupils were sent home in the morning after a serious electrical fault caused by condensation from a burst water pipe.
Other incidents include:
- 17th September 2008: Burst pipe in roof outside school office area leaving no heating in Physical Education and adjacent general purposes area.
- 13th October 2008: Burst pipe in Maths department causing damage to classroom floor and ceiling of Technical department design room below.
- 16th October 2008: Water ingress in the old Anderson Institute part of the building and water ingress in Maths department and Technical department.
- 31st October 2008: Burst water pipe in ceiling of Social Subjects corridor.
- 1st November 2008: Water poured down inside wall of Games Hall during in-service session for all of Shetland’s school staff.
- 10th November 2008: Further water leak in Social Subjects corridor plus leak from pipe in Home Economics causing damage to ceiling of corridor in 1960s block.
- 12th January 2009: Burst pipe in ceiling of 1960s block.
Among other concerns are the falling off of chunks of harling from the exterior of the games hall and the desperate need for new windows in the old Anderson Institute, which is A-listed and will therefore require expensive like-for-like replacements.
There are also signs of water ingress in the north facing end of D-block, which was built as a temporary construction in the 1990s to house some science departments.
Because of its age the school also has poor disability access, dining room space is limited and circulation of pupils around the building between classes is congested.
SIC building services manager David Williamson said: “The overall condition is not unexpected for the age of the building.” The major issue was rusting from within pipes which causes a series of pin-prick holes until the pipe bursts.
Large sections of pipework have been replaced, while others have been temporarily repaired. But increasingly a balancing act has to be struck between investing large sums in replacing things and merely repairing them in the expectation of the new school being built, Mr Williamson pointed out.
Meanwhile MSP Tavish Scott urged the council to get on with constructing the new school.
He said: “Many parents have expressed their concerns to me that the project is being allowed to slide while their children’s education is being disrupted by problems like last week’s. As a parent myself, I share their concerns.
“Questions over the site, the design and the funding mechanism have been behind the continuing delays. The council must address these questions quickly so that work can start on building the new school. The existing buildings are no longer fit for purpose. The longer they have to be kept in use, the more leaks and other problems will disrupt the business of the school. Our children’s education is suffering.”
Mr Scott said that even if work was starting on site tomorrow, AHS pupils would be facing several more years in the old school.
“Every month’s delay in getting the project moving means pupils and teachers having to struggle on for another month in the old school while it crumbles around them.”
SIC education spokesman Bill Manson countered that if he had checked, Mr Scott would have seen that the council was indeed progressing with the new building and hoped to have its planning application in very soon.