By NEIL RIDDELL
The Anderson High School will be closed today because of a burst pipe which led to “extremely hot” water gushing through the main hall of the school and beyond on Wednesday evening, the most visible sign yet of the dilapidated state of some of its buildings directly impinging on pupils’ education.
Though the school was able to remain open yesterday after the leak was diverted, Shetland Island Council’s head of schools Helen Budge said that in order to repair the damaged pipe the entire heating and hot water system at the AHS would have to be shut down and drained.
In a short letter to parents and pupils, AHS head teacher Valerie Nicolson apologised for the disruption and said that it would take three full working days for the repairs to be undertaken safely, with the school anticipated to be ready to open its doors to pupils and teachers again on Monday.
Ms Budge said it highlighted the pressing need for progress on the project to build a brand new school, which has been in gestation for nearly 20 years. “We know that the pipe work within the school is old and we are certainly aware that one of the reasons for a new school is because of the condition of the building that we have,” she said.
Because of the expectation that a new school is imminent, it is believed that the level of maintenance has been somewhat lower than if the plan had been for the buildings to be kept in use for a longer period of time.
Meanwhile, Shetland Charitable Trust is to examine the possibility of securing a bank loan to pay for the new school rather than using its own reserves to do so, it has emerged.
The trust confirmed this week that informal discussions had taken place between trust and SIC officials over how the school is to be paid for as the date for submission of a planning application for the Lerwick school on its existing site at the Knab fast approaches.
The move to ask the trust if it will fund the project has been anticipated since it was first mooted by SIC head of finance Graham Johnston as the council grappled with a grossly oversubscribed capital programme.
Trust chairman Bill Manson told The Shetland Times: “In principle we would be willing to try to find agreement subject to funding being available, and funding options are being explored by Shetland Charitable Trust.”
The idea of a bank loan is one of a number of possibilities on the table and, although no direct approaches have been made as yet, the trust is understood to be wary that in the current economic climate, funding institutions are not being particularly forthcoming with funds.
Mr Manson said this week that he “fervently” wants to see the school built and how it is funded is “academic to me”, while there is nothing to say the approach to the trust means it will be looking to fork out for 100 per cent of the building costs in a leaseback arrangement with the council.
While the total cost of the school is now estimated to be £49 million, once fees and costs to date are included the spend on actually building it is expected to be in the region of £40 million.
The value of the trust’s pot stood at £156.7 million last Friday and the trust – now under the management of Ann Black – is comfortable with the prospect of asking trustees to spend more than a quarter of those funds on building the school, as it would give them a stable, guaranteed source of income for years to come.
The leaseback arrangement – which could run for anything from 25 to 40 years – would still mean the SIC having to find the money to (Continued on page two) (Continued from front page) reimburse the trust for its investment at a rate which will be determined by the trust’s property leasing arm SLAP in the weeks ahead.
SLAP would insist upon the loan being at a commercial rate, which means the council is likely to have to find in the region of £4-5 million from somewhere within its budget for that period.
While the timescale suggests that the sale and leaseback would not take place until 2012 at the earliest, it does mean that the capital programme budget – much of which is swallowed up by maintenance and upkeep of existing buildings – could still be paralysed for many years. Another possible, but perhaps less likely, scenario is that the SIC will be so successful in squeezing its revenue spending in the next few years that a chunk of the repayments could come out of that budget.
The council currently has a £20 million-a-year budget for capital projects, scheduled to be trimmed to £15 million a year by the start of financial year 2010/11, but there is a long list of projects including new care home places and ferry terminals jostling for local authority funding.
Mr Johnston said: “In truth, there’s no way of skinning this cat that doesn’t cost money in either the short or the long term – neither are without implications. The fact of the matter is a massive project of this kind is going to have knock-on effects however you deal with it.”
But Lerwick South councillor Jonathan Wills said it meant paying £150 million for the school over a 30-year period and, once repairs and renewals are factored in, leaving a capital spend on other projects of just £1-2 million “for the foreseeable future”. “That’s why some of us want to look at cheaper sites, but I think they’re determined to railroad it through,” he said.
Dr Wills said it was an “unnecessarily expensive school squeezed into the wrong site” rather than a design based on education principles, while he believes that a school at either Seafield or Clickimin would be quicker and cheaper, and is also sceptical about the ability of the project team to have building work completed by November 2012 – based on building work starting this October.
Concern was voiced at a meeting with local residents on Monday evening about a traffic management study by, among others, services chairman Gussie Angus. The formula used to measure the disruption to traffic expected to be caused by the three-year construction programme is based on an existing 7.9 vehicle movements per day for each house in the area, with 10 per cent of the traffic HGVs. Dr Wills said these “erroneous” figures led to an underestimate of the impact construction traffic would have on the area.
The project to build a new AHS has been talked about for the best part of two decades and this is the fifth attempt to design a school to educate the majority of Shetland’s pupils for the first half of the 21st century. A new project team was set up last year after further delays and a planning application is due to be submitted in March.