By JOHN ROBERTSON
THE SIC has given itself six months to design a smaller, cheaper Anderson High School costing no more than £49 million.
Councillors were persuaded this week that a more-compact building sited lower down the Knab than previously envisaged could cost £14m less than the ambitious building unveiled to the public in March which they and their officials now agree is not value for money at its latest estimate of £63m.
The idea now is to have a detailed rethink over the next few months in partnership with the contractor O’Hare & McGovern’s architects with a view to submitting a planning application in December. The
latest delay effectively rules out any start on building work until spring next year at the earliest.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the Full Council, convener Sandy Cluness said the process was the quickest way to get the best-possible school for Shetland’s children, warning that with costs rising £250,000 a month he did not want to be sitting in the chamber in another two years still deciding what to do.
Members also backed an idea from services chairman Gussie Angus to appoint an experienced project manager to oversee the whole process from start to finish, as was done successfully by Shetland Amenity Trust when it built the Shetland Museum and Archives.
The school is also be taken more closely under the wings of Mr Angus’ committee over the coming months to ensure councillors keep a better grip on progress and problems.
He said the school – now in its 17th year of planning – had been characterised by council decisions based on seriously flawed advice, claiming that “all sorts of hobgoblins” had been charging around giving opinions which had ultimately led to councillors’ public humiliation due to the failure to get a new school built.
Under this fresh cost-cutting plan, the design will be simplified and space will be saved by shaving 10 per cent off the school roll the building is designed for, down from 1,100 pupils to 1,000 to reflect more closely the falling population of children. The current roll is about 900.
The cost of building a school in Shetland just now is put at £2,700 a square metre, according to SIC executive director of education and social care Hazel Sutherland in her report to members. Reducing the space for each pupil by five square metres to 60m² will save more money while still providing more room than at most other Shetland schools.
It is also proposed now that no new games hall is built, the existing one being refurbished instead.
The council sees clear advantages in sliding the site down the hill, making it less exposed to gales and less intrusive on neighbours who protested about the last proposal. It would also avoid Knab Road having to be realigned, part of the golf course being built over and the public toilets and Blydehaven nursery having to be knocked down.
However, pushing the building much closer to the existing school could mean having to demolish the three-storey A Block, containing hazardous asbestos, while ensuring no disruption to pupils’ education. Investigations are to be made into buying or leasing temporary classrooms to house pupils should they have to be displaced.
Ms Sutherland said she hoped to find a way forward which requires neither demolition nor decanting of pupils into huts.
There was some attempt by one or two councillors to get the SIC to, once more, look at other sites away from the Knab. But it was a half-hearted effort, that battle now appearing to have been settled, mainly because another site would mean another delay of possibly two years.
The most realistic candidates are on the slopes of the Staney Hill behind the Clickimin Centre or on top of the Clickimin rugby pitch but they and others, such as Seafield, present various problems including requiring changes to planning zones, the need for new roads and services, hostels and a special needs building.
It would also mean squandering most of the £2.6m already spent on the school plan, which includes £1.5m on contractor costs and £724,000 on external and professional fees. A further £700,000 has been earmarked to pay for the work needed to complete a fresh design proposal over the next six months and getting it ready for planning permission.
The council first looked at sites for the new school in 1991. Clickimin was first choice for a time but in 2003 a decision was made to stay at the Knab. The following year the estimated building cost was put at £29.6m (£33m at today’s prices) but by 2006 it had grown to £48m.
Even refurbishing the existing school has a price tag of over £20m now and the deteriorating state of the complex is such that annual maintenance costs for this year are £600,000. Ironically, the troubled school chose the day before this week’s council meeting to publicise its ailing health, suffering another of its plumbing dramas when an iron heating pipe burst upstairs in B Block, sending water streaming through the ceiling into classrooms below, destroying roof tiles and causing other damage.