The Irish construction company which was contracted to build the new Anderson High School before the project was moved from the Knab to the Clickimin is still poised to begin work on the new build.
However Shetland Islands Council says O’Hare and McGovern will have to re-tender if it wants to be involved in the school. That is because of the new procurement process introduced in light of an agreement by the Scottish government to help fund the school through the Scottish Futures Trust.
The company’s managing director Eamon O’Hare insists the company has a signed contract to start work on the school, despite a long-standing insistence from the SIC that either party was free to walk away from the deal at any time.
The dispute risks opening up the possibility of an unseemly, and expensive, legal spat between the building firm and the SIC, which has been struggling to find ways to build a new Anderson High for over 20 years.
O’Hare and McGovern’s staff were poised to begin work on the school at the Knab in 2009 before a last minute u-turn, in which Jonathan Wills was instrumental, resulted in a review of where the new school should be built. The lower Staney Hill site was finally settled upon as the preferred location.
O’Hare and McGovern has already been paid £2 million by the council for the early work it had carried out, although that is some way short of the £6 million the SIC has spent on the project, without one brick ever being laid.
Mr McGovern said: “The SIC have paid us for what we have done so far. At the moment the contract is just on hold, and we’re waiting for the council to decide what they want.
“We have a contract for building a school in Lerwick to replace the Anderson High School, and that contract still exists. We have not heard anything else. Unless they start building it by some other means, I would expect we will be back.
“We have a signed contract to build an Anderson High School in Lerwick, whenever they are ready. I understand there are financial problems, and I have heard they still have to be sorted out.”
Asked if he was concerned by the council’s belief it was entitled to seek new tenders he said: “We have taken legal advice which we have put to the Shetland council and it says there was a contract there to build the Anderson High.”
But director of childrens’ services Helen Budge insisted the school was now “a different type of project” with its own procurement method.
She pointed to the SIC’s collaboration with six other northern local areas hoping to build schools through Hub North Scotland.
The arrangement has come in light of confirmation in September by the SNP’s education minister Mike Russell that the government would provide most of the funding for the new school.
There are still no details on exactly how much will be allocated, although the government is expected to provide two thirds of the cost for a “like for like” development. It is thought the project could cost half the £63 million, which was once being discussed when plans were afoot to build at the Knab.
Mrs Budge said O’Hare and McGovern would have the opportunity to apply through Hub North.
Representatives from Hub North are due to visit Shetland next week, ahead of a report which will go to the Full Council on 5th December.
“We have been offered funding through a Scottish Schools for the Future programme which sets out clearly a particular method of procurement,” said Mrs Budge.
Dr Wills insisted the council could never have afforded to build the O’Hare and McGovern school at the Knab.
He denied taking a lead in moving the project to the Clickimin site, and said he would not feel responsible if expensive legal proceedings were to take place.