Anderson High School teachers are strongly in favour of building the new school at Clickimin judging by the early results of a council opinion poll.
The teachers have been responding to an email and letter sent out by SIC education bosses seeking their views on the controversy surrounding the school’s location.
Services chairman Gussie Angus said on Thursday that all but one of about 20 replies so far backed the Clickimin site in preference to a new school on the existing campus between Twageos and the Knab. Some of the responses are said to have been submitted by principal teachers professing to act on behalf of whole departments in the school.
A further effort is to be made to canvass opinion among teachers in other Shetland schools which send pupils to Lerwick.
Meanwhile two public petitions against building at the Knab had gathered 930 signatures by Thursday. Tom Jamieson, who launched a residents’ petition four weeks ago, said it now stood at 430 while the parents’ and families’ petition, organised by Patricia Wright, has 500 names.
All opinions on the location will be fed into the £100,000 independent review into the siting of the AHS being led by Mr Angus.
Views expressed at a public meeting being hosted by the council on 22nd July will also influence the study, due to be completed by the middle of next month before going before councillors on 3rd September for a massive decision.
News of the apparently overwhelming opposition from teachers to the Knab site will come as a blow to the more high-profile supporters of a new school on the existing site, who include council convener Sandy Cluness.
The poll of teacher opinion follows a complaint that their views were being suppressed. Mr Angus said it was reported to him that some were “being discouraged from airing their views” on the location.
He consulted new SIC chief executive Dave Clark and Mr Cluness and it was decided to canvas opinion. He then emailed SIC head of schools Helen Budge asking her to carry out the process. It was alleged that no action was taken by education staff until one hour before school broke up for the summer holidays on Friday when an email finally began pinging into teachers’ SIC mailboxes.
Mr Angus confirmed the failure and said he had subsequently ordered that letters also be posted out to teachers’ homes in an effort to reach more of them. There is usually an exodus from Shetland at the start of holidays with some teachers catching the first boat or plane out.
Asked about the response so far, Mr Angus said it had been “quite big” and “with one exception all in favour of the Clickimin site, or lower Staney Hill site to be precise”. He added: “Some of them have informed me they are writing on behalf of their departments.”
More controversy is being stoked up over the credentials of Andrew Laidler, a former business associate of Mr Clark brought in at short notice to co-ordinate the AHS review. His professional expertise in the building
field has been questioned, highlighting the fact that although Mr Angus described him as “a five-star building surveyor”, he is not a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
Mr Angus said yesterday there had not been time for the normal tendering process to recruit a co-ordinating consultant and Mr Clark had suggested his former associate.
“Some things you just have to take on trust,” Mr Angus said. “I met with the fellow and he seemed to me to have just the credentials we were looking for. He is not a member of the RICS but he is a qualified surveyor; he does have a lot of experience in huge capital projects, mainly in the south-east of England, and on that basis I am happy for him to go ahead until I see evidence otherwise.
“He is a bright spark. He is nobody’s fool and he has quickly got the parameters of [the project]. He says he will give us his candid opinion without fear or favour.”
As part of the SIC’s review requirements it is hoped to appoint cost consultants by the end of this week after receiving quotes from at least three interested firms. These consultants will analyse the comparative costs of building schools on the rival sites.