By NEIL RIDDELL
THE £49 million new Anderson High School is finally “progressing as we wish”, according to SIC convener Sandy Cluness.
Councillors were yesterday shown the fifth attempt at designing a building to educate Shetland’s children.
Although members had a number of concerns and queries after being given an update on the project by executive services director Hazel Sutherland, they were broadly happy to note that “good progress” is being made.
The SIC hopes to be in a position to submit a planning application for the new school by March, though Ms Sutherland’s report did note that was a “challenging” timescale.
Radically redesigned plans from architects RPP for a 1,000-pupil, 15,000m² school to be built largely on the existing site at the Knab were put before members at the services committee meeting.
The designs were commissioned to find a more compact building to be sited lower down the Knab than the ambitious previous proposal, which councillors and officials kicked out in June after agreeing it was not value for money at an estimated cost of £63m.
Chairman Gussie Angus said a project team manager was due to be appointed “very soon”, which he hoped would help give the “troubled” project – under discussion for some 17 years – a new start.
Mr Cluness said he was glad to hear a project manager was nearly in place, adding that with costs continuing to rise and well-documented deterioration of the existing school buildings “time is not on our side”.
Although the original Anderson Educational Institute is to be retained, the new plans have as yet found no place for the building in the new school, which was the cause of unease for a number of councillors.
Councillor Alastair Cooper said he would be “vexed” if the building – adjacent to the Bruce Hostel – could not be incorporated into the new design.
Ms Sutherland explained that when it came to the whole concept of the school, it needed to work as a building and that it will be challenging for the architects to make the institute an integral part of the new school.
Although they have not given up, the team has yet to identify a particular department or function of the school which could fit into the old building, which is to be 30 metres away from the new structure.
Councillor Jonathan Wills again raised his concern at the cost of the project, asking why the target budget had to be set at £49m when an “exemplar” school in Inverness had recently been built for only £26m. The general rule of thumb is held to be that building costs incurred in Shetland are around 25-30 per cent higher than on the UK mainland, mainly due to the difficulties in shipping materials here.
Dr Wills suggested that, even with additional building costs in the isles, a sum of £34m would surely be adequate, and also queried how the council was going to pay for the project.
Ms Sutherland responded that the favoured proposal remains to pursue a leaseback arrangement whereby the school is paid for by Shetland Charitable Trust, as was mooted in a report from head of finance Graham Johnston earlier this year.
With a long wish-list of other projects requiring funding, councillors are keen to avoid a situation where the school paralyses the capital programme for a number of years, but the leaseback would have to be cleared with the Scottish government, the council’s external auditors, the trust itself and the board of the council’s own property company Slap.
Dr Wills has repeatedly voiced his frustration that the council has not properly evaluated whether it might be cheaper to build on other sites such as the SIC-owned greenfield site at Seafield or the site adjacent to Clickimin on the side of the Staney Hill.
SIC senior contract manager Robert Sinclair said it did not appear the cost would be “unduly affected” by choosing the Knab site over others.
Mr Angus said that while he was “no enthusiast” of the Knab site, the council had taken a democratic decision to examine whether a project there was feasible. No binding decision to build on the Knab has been taken and if doing so was to prove problematic there will still be scope to examine other options at a later stage, he added.
Other issues raised included concern that temporary huts for music and English surrounding the existing school are to be demolished, which councillor Caroline Miller said seemed like “a complete and utter waste of money”.
Ms Sutherland said she understood most of the huts were not in a state to be reused but promised to look into the matter.
The £49m price tag is based on a £40m building, plus the cost of “enormous” professional fees (of which £2.85m have already been paid) as well as £1m to pay for temporary classrooms likely to be needed if pupils have to be decanted from part of the existing school while it is knocked down.
Project planners still hope to be in a position to start building the school some time in 2009 and estimate that it would take between two and three years to build, with additional time for landscaping and other external works