Councillors have brought a £4.5 million extension to Shetland College to the front of the building queue to avoid losing out on a £1.8m European grant.
At the Full Council on Wednesday the elected members were fulsome in their praise for the college and agreed to put up the remaining £2.5m, accepting that other projects ahead of it on the council’s £108m waiting list would have to wait longer for their turn.
Phase three of the college expansion involves a facelift including building a two-storey block onto the west end of the lower of the two existing blocks at Gremista.
The project was not in line for council funding for at least five years but agreeing to fast-track it means the work may get under way later this year with most of the building done in the following two years.
The college needs extra room for teaching and for student space and it is hoping to shed its institutional appearance in favour of a less formal and pedestrian-friendly campus-style experience. The college is proving increasingly popular for further and higher education and is struggling to cope, student numbers having risen from 1,252 in 2005/06 to 1,664 last year.
Among the improved services will be a creative industries unit with a good-quality studio, which could attract contemporary textiles students from outwith Shetland. The existing construction workshop will be able to expand, allowing plumbing and bricklaying courses to be offered in Shetland instead of students having to go south.
Catering students will no longer have to cook in kitchens next to the Anderson High School and there will be room in the new-look college for prestigious research students to come and study. Music courses will also be offered.
The £1.8m EU grant has been awarded under a scheme to enhance peripheral and fragile communities and it is thought that matching funding needs to be in place by the end of March to unlock the allocation. On top of the council grant of £2.5m the remaining £200,000 will be found from annual government funding to the college. The council’s contribution may be reduced at a later date if funding bids for a total of £700,000 from HIE Shetland and the Scottish Funding Council are successful.
In a report to councillors, college director George Smith stated: “This project will revitalise Shetland College and will provide facilities in Shetland for further and higher education of which everyone can be proud.
“It will be a centre of excellence for teaching and researching in Shetland and therefore will be central to Shetland College playing a full part in the activities of the University of the Highlands and Islands.”
Chairman of the college board, councillor Andrew Hughson, said backing for the extension would reinforce the council’s “spirit of altruism”.