The new Anderson High School is in line to open in three years’ time after the project passed its latest landmark on Tuesday.
Members of the SIC’s education committee unanimously approved a formal “project request” for the new school, halls of residence and extension to the nearby Clickimin Leisure Complex.
Assuming the decision is endorsed at next week’s full council, the request will be submitted to Hubco, the body responsible for overseeing the construction of several new schools in the north of Scotland.
Work should then begin on detailed architectural designs, with the council remaining committed to having everything in place for building work to start next spring.
Last week it was announced that the Scottish government’s contribution to the project had increased from £24 million to £28 million.
With a predicted overall budget of £42 million, the SIC’s contribution is envisaged to be around £14 million – although those figures may be revised again in the coming months.
Children’s services director Helen Budge explained the extra money was required because the Scottish government had pledged to build a “like-for-like replacement” of the existing Knab buildings.
That means the SIC will get a school big enough for up to 1,180 pupils – rather than the 1,000-pupil capacity it had anticipated. It also allows additional space to be provided for pupils with additional support needs (ASN).
The current AHS roll is just under 900, meaning the new school would have the capacity to absorb pupils should the SIC decide to press ahead with controversial plans to close other secondary departments.
Mrs Budge said: “We submitted information to the Scottish Futures Trust on our ASN unit, on our pupil capacity for the AHS, and they’ve come back [with a higher figure]. We’ve still not fully worked out the … affordability cap. Financial close will probably not be for another year yet.”
The price tag remains much lower than the £63 million estimate for a previous design, which was to have been built with no outside assistance, during the term of the last council.
An extra 20 per cent cost has been factored in to account for the added cost of building in Shetland compared to somewhere in the Scottish central belt.
Asked if there was a cut-off point at which the council’s contribution would become unaffordable, education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart said: “Nobody discussed a cut-off at this point, that wasn’t an issue today.
“It’s still a good deal for the people of Shetland. Okay, it’s not a bespoke school, but if it follows the other schools built throughout Scotland, it’s going to be something we’re very proud of. We’re still getting two-thirds of the finances from government, and you can’t complain about that.”
After a 40-minute debate in public, members retreated into private to spend over 90 minutes discussing “contractual details” of the AHS project. That included questions on how best to avoid building on contaminated land – part of the site is the old town dump – “around the outskirts of the site”, Mrs Budge said afterwards.
Speaking following what she admitted had been a “long and difficult morning”, Ms Wishart said councillors had given their backing for officials to continue negotiations on the contract. Building giant Miller Construction was awarded the main contract earlier this year.
“There was a lot of discussion about these things,” Ms Wishart said, “but obviously you can’t itemise them at this stage in the game. It comes back in the spring to councillors, and at that point I suppose we’ll see whether those negotiations have been successful.”
At the instigation of councillor George Smith, a synthetic sports pitch was added as one of the project’s “aspirations”. Councillor Davie Sandison said such a surface “should be regarded as a key thing”.
Efforts to build a new school have rumbled around Lerwick Town Hall in one form or another for two decades. South Mainland councillor Billy Fox said the way forward “does seem to be panning out” at last.
Pupils go back to school for the new term tomorrow. If all goes to plan, come August 2016 secondary school pupils will be walking through the doors of a new AHS.
Mr Fox said: “If we manage to keep on budget and there are no other surprises, we’re going to be getting a school, hostel and the SRT [getting a] significant extension of Clickimin for £42 million, of which we only have to put in £14 million.”
North Isles councillor Gary Cleaver was sceptical about aspects of the project. After asking officials numerous questions, he said he was “astounded” that the need for extra ASN space had not been taken account of before now.
* There is a drop-in session at the Clickmin’s Waterside Suite from 10am to 8pm on Thursday for people who want to find out more about the AHS project.