Councillors today agreed to submit a bid for Scottish government funding towards the cost of building a new Anderson High School.
The SIC is applying for assistance under the third phase of the SNP administration’s £1.25 billion “schools for the future” programme, funded through the Scottish Futures Trust. The deadline for bids is 21st July.
In a report approved by members of the education and families committee today, SIC head of children’s services Helen Budge said the government had indicated a desire to support school building projects in all 32 Scottish local authorities. Other councils have benefited during the first two phases of “schools for the future” but the SIC has not, which could strengthen its case.
The AHS is deemed to be in the poorest condition of any Shetland school, and it is estimated that repair and maintenance of the Knab buildings will cost an average of £1 million a year for the next two decades. In addition, the ageing buildings are “relatively inefficient in energy terms”, so in the longer term a new school could ease financial pressure on the council.
Moving an unopposed resolution to approve the funding application, councillor Frank Robertson said it was a “fantastic opportunity” to attract funding into Shetland for the AHS project.
Should the application be successful, it is still not clear precisely what form the aid would take. It is likely to be August or September before the council learns if its bid has succeeded, at which point the nature of funding should become clearer.
A new school at the lower Staney Hill would be “similar in size” to the new Eastwood High School being built in Newton Mearns, just outside Glasgow, which was funded by the first phase of “schools for the future” cash.
In a draft of its application, the SIC expresses a willingness to “explore the possibility of joint working/bundling with the Eastwood High School project if acceptable to all parties”.
With the council set to look at shutting more junior highs to save £2 million a year, the issue of what size the new AHS pupil roll ought to be is likely to be a political hot potato. In essence, if many more junior high departments were to go the way of Scalloway, the new school would need to be considerably larger.
Government funding would be linked to the size of the pupil roll when the new school opens. The council’s agreed policy is for the new building to have capacity for 1,000 pupils, while the AHS’s projected roll for the start of the 2012/13 session is 891 pupils.
Though the draft application says no pressures such as population growth or migration are liable to significantly affect the pupil roll, the council “will look to flexibility in the design to offer future proofing as there is currently a refresh of the Blueprint for Education being undertaken”.
Head of finance James Gray sought to reassure councillors that the SIC’s debt-free status, worth more than £13 million a year, would not be jeopardised by accepting a government grant.