Clickimin Leisure Centre is in line for a £1.5 million extension and refurbishment so it can house the new Anderson High School’s PE department.
Shetland Recreational Trust (SRT) has agreed in principle to sell the neighbouring parcel of land hosting its campsite, though negotiations on the fine detail are continuing.
While haggling with the SIC over the sale price, the SRT also has to weigh up the benefits of Clickimin being revamped and extended – and the guaranteed income a 25-year “service level agreement” for the local authority to use the leisure complex would bring.
SIC children’s services director Helen Budge told councillors on Wednesday that, as an all-new PE department was not needed, the figure of “roughly” £1.5 million could come from within the overall £36 million budget for a school and halls of residence.
Mrs Budge said a Clickimin extension could include a new 200 square metre gym hall, along with funding to make alterations to existing parts of the building.
“We need a number of PE areas, but also it would be for the public to use other areas that we are not utilising,” Mrs Budge told members of the education and families committee.
It is hoped an agreement between the SIC and SRT can be ironed out in the next three months.
AHS pupils would not require exclusive use of Clickimin’s swimming pool, bowls hall or squash courts. All would continue to operate as normal. The new gym hall could also be made available to the general public in evenings and at weekends.
Councillor Peter Campbell pointed out that the benefits the SRT stands to gain “could influence the whole question of purchase of land”.
Detailed site investigations have been conducted looking at precisely where the accompanying halls of residence will go. Mrs Budge said the project team had to work around an area of “contaminated” land which used to host the town’s dump.
But she remains hopeful that the first turf will be turned in March 2014, in line with the Scottish Government’s quick-fire timetable.
Two-thirds of the project cost is being met by the Scottish Government – though North Isles councillor Gary Cleaver said he had “grave concerns” about the financial model.
He claimed the “design, build, finance and maintain” arrangement with Hubco North was akin to a re-branding of the discredited Private Finance Initiative (PFI) model used for big building projects.
Though his fears are “partly tempered” by other councillors’ “overwhelming will” to see the new school built, Mr Cleaver fears members will be asked to sanction an eight-figure spend in “blind faith”.
“I’ve always been told that it’s not [a re-branded PFI model],” he said. “However, at their first meeting the senior representatives of Hubco North… unequivocally replied ‘yes it is’.
“Only time will tell, but we are committing in the region of £12 million… and as yet we have no clear understanding of the additional costs [in maintenance]. This could be viewed as blind faith in years to come.”
Mr Cleaver added there was “no such thing as free money”, also querying why the new AHS, with a 1,200-pupil capacity, “has to sit within the top 10 per cent of largest secondary schools” in the country.
But Mrs Budge said this was the third round of the Scottish Government’s “schools for the future” programme. She believes “lessons have been learned” and arrangements for maintaining new buildings were “not nearly as rigid as before”.
Finance chief James Gray said the council would be responsible for day-to-day things such as painting and replacing light bulbs and carpets – just as it would if it took out a long-term lease on a building. A contractor would carry out larger scale tasks such as replacing boilers.
“At the end of the 25 years the school is handed over to us as good as new, effectively,” Mr Gray said.
Councillor Frank Robertson noted it was now 30 years since the first report recommending a new school at Clickimin. He was more sanguine about the project’s prospects of success, pointing out “reputable” and “experienced” national companies were to design and build the school.
Religious representative Martin Tregonning said that, though “strictly speaking” it was not a PFI contract, “many elements are very similar”.
He said he hoped there would be no repeat of “stuff-ups” under PFI, such as the hospital built without an X-Ray room and frequent post-construction problems with the cost of maintenance.
“There’s always the law of unintended consequences,” Mr Tregonning said. “There’s no desire to enter into a contract which is going to be a rod for our own back in the future. The more people look at it and scrutinise it and come back with positive suggestions, the better chance we have of making this a successful project.”