Shifting the new Anderson High School to the lower Staney Hill could add between £6-10 million to the price tag compared to the existing Knab location, according to an independent review co-ordinated by consultant Andrew Laidler comparing the two sites.
Mr Laidler does not make any specific recommendation to members but estimates that building a school at the lower Staney Hill next to Clickimin would cost between £55-60 million, compared to a £49 million budget for the Knab.
The lower Staney Hill was the overwhelming preference among 170 attendees of a public meeting in Lerwick Town Hall earlier this summer.
Meanwhile, two petitions totalling 2,000 names opposed to siting the new school at the Knab were handed over to SIC services committee chairman Gussie Angus on Wednesday morning as councillors begin digesting the review’s findings.
The cost consultants’ report was the only one which came out in favour of the Knab, whereas architectural and, significantly, educational reviews expressed a clear and unambiguous preference for the lower Staney Hill site. Numerous submissions from concerned parents, residents and several teachers are also broadly anti-Knab.
A covering report on Mr Laidler’s review from SIC chief executive David Clark, which goes before the services committee next Thursday, asks members to weigh up the two options and come to a decision. A “practical” completion date of July 2013 is given for either site, though Mr Clark notes that in the case of the lower Staney Hill that would be subject to council approval, land purchase and planning approval.
Mr Clark said: “This option offers the potential to provide a state of the art educational facility. There is no guarantee that this option is feasible, as the land is currently in private ownership and no planning consent currently exists. Whilst this option minimises pupil disruption during the construction phase, the impact of delay must be considered should this option ultimately prove undeliverable.”
Mr Laidler’s report suggests that rock removal and blasting into the side of the hill would cost around £3.5 million extra, while £200,000 would be needed to acquire the land in question and a further £500,000 would be spent on building a new roundabout to provide better access to the school. Fees for a new design are given a rough estimate of £2 million, while the construction of a new additional support needs (ASN) building would also add £2 million.
In mitigation, the SIC would save around £875,000 by not having to phase the development to take account for building around the existing school and would also be able to keep aside the £520,000 demolition cost.
The cost consultants’ report states that the tender from Irish builders O’Hare & McGovern of just under £41 million to build the school equated to £2,500 per square metre when they would have expected somewhere in the region of £2,000 per square metre. “We are of the opinion that the build costs are high however this applies to both sites and is possibly a reflection of the market at time of tender as well as the perceived difficulties in constructing in Shetland. It may not be possible to receive more competitive tenders given the current market.”
Mr Clark said £10 million would be “a more realistic” estimate for the additional cost “to account for improved facilities and potential delays and on-costs associated” with shifting sites.
Referring to the Knab site he said: “This option offers the opportunity to immediately commence progress for the provision of a high quality educational facility, within known cost and time parameters. There is the potential for some disruption to pupils during construction, and the facility will have limited potential for future development.”
The educational impact review says the council has a choice between building a “flagship secondary on the Clickimin site” or building a “satisfactory school on the Knab Road site which will continue to present barriers and obstacles to staff and pupils”. The Clickimin option, it said, would offer the possibility of “an environmentally friendly building which is more aesthetically pleasing, less obtrusive [and] more easily maintained than a tower block design on the high point at Knab Road”.
A panel of local architects says the Blueprint for Education review into schools provision throughout the isles should be completed before the design for a new school is completed. It suggests the brief should be reviewed to reconsider the “one teacher, one classroom” requirement and the overall number of pupils should also be reappraised. “The current design proposals are too big for the site, too disruptive, lacking quality and visually unacceptable in this particular location,” they said.
A parents’ petition launched in early July by concerned mother Patricia Wright has now gathered 1,395 signatures and was handed over to Mr Angus along with a residents’ petition boasting 600 names outside the town hall. Members will take a decision on whether to change course at next Thursday’s meeting of the services committee.
Tom Jamieson, who was involved in organising the residents’ petition, said he thought the petition served to highlight the strength of feeling against the Knab site and criticised SIC convener Sandy Cluness, a leading proponent of keeping the AHS on the town’s southern peninsula.
“We don’t have any personal cause,” Mr Jamieson said. “We’re not trying to further our careers, we’re trying to hep the community – there’s no personal gain out of this for us. I think the petition does speak volumes although some folk are quite willing to ignore what we try to do.
“It’s for the good of the community, everybody was saying the same thing at the public meeting – anybody that wasn’t there missed a big night. Some [of the councillors] certainly will listen, others have admitted on the radio that they won’t. What’s the point in spending £60,000 on a review when folk are not willing to listen to what it says?”
Ms Wright agreed: “When we were going around asking for signatures, it was nine out of 10 folk that were for what we were doing and were concerned about the design, the site and the fact that it’s going to affect the bairns’ education if they’re sitting on a building site for four or five years. It’s quite a serious issue really.”
Mr Angus, who has long been in favour of building at Clickimin, said that in his recollection it was an unprecedented day for democracy in the isles: “I cannot recall a previous time where the public of Lerwick has petitioned the council about anything. It’s an indication of the strength of feeling that a lot of folk have about this development, and it’s a very important part of the public consultation.
“Most councillors are certainly aware of the strength of feeling amongst a large section of not only the Lerwick public but the Shetland public, particularly those who have children, grandchildren or relatives of school age. It’s the principal school in the islands, so it’s important that we get it right and I hope we will.”