The new Anderson High School will be built to last in harsh conditions and will be finished in April 2017, according to the team behind the flagship project.
Councillors and officials have been told the £43 million development will be made to withstand driving rain and gale force winds.
A vital milestone is expected to come in March when the project to build the school and hall of residence reaches financial close. That should then pave the way for the first turf to be cut a month later – two years before the planned completion date.
Inflation has forced the cost up from £42 million, but two thirds of the cost is still being covered by the Scottish government through its Scottish Futures Trust.
In the meantime reassurances were made over the building’s durability during a briefing up-date at the town hall involving architects and Hub North Scotland, the driving force behind the new school.
Speaking after Wednesday’s key meeting, Hub North’s chairman Jim Royan said: “We’ve just met with elected members and half of the discussion we had with them was around that very point.”
Architectural director of Ryder Architects, Chris Malcolm, said the building would stand the test of time, and be fit for purpose.
“Shetland has its own unique environmental conditions which we’re certainly aware of. That has to inform the specifications and technical detail of the new school.”
He said the climate made fitness for purpose “of even more paramount importance”.
The projected timescale has been designed to allow for a “Shetland factor” – namely, the high winds that will come during the construction. That should ensure the school is completed on time.
“Clearly, ‘fit for purpose’ has to be the one over-riding rule, over everything,” Mr Malcolm said.
“The area director for Morrison [Construction, contractor] has been involved in construction projects in Shetland before, and is certainly aware of the key challenges.”
Morrison has already gained experience working at the new Total gas plant at Sullom Voe.
Meanwhile, the new school has entered its “procurement” stage – or stage two – of its development, with Morrison Construction in talks with 20 listed local contractors. Two months ago it emerged local contractors had taken a cynical view of their involvement in the high school. But since then Morrison have gone back to local businesses to “re-investigate” whether they can contribute.
The school is also expected to pave the way for a number of local apprenticeships, which could see outgoing high school pupils go on to help build the new school for future generations.
Mr Royan said a big help had been the chance to hear expert advice in the community.
“Two of the councillors [Frank Robertson and Theo Smith] have a lifetime’s experience in the design and construction industry.”
Chairwoman of the council’s education and families committee, Vaila Wishart, said: “Councillors have been asking some pretty hard questions this morning of Hubco and the architects. I don’t know if they were reassured – I had some of my doubts dispelled this morning.
“What I’m really interested in is us making that financial close in March, at which point the councillors will decide whether they go ahead with this or not, and I sincerely hope they do because it’s going to make a difference to young people in the whole of Shetland.”
Hub North’s chief executive, Angus Macfarlane, said: “Hub North Scotland and Shetland Islands Council are working in partnership with legal, funding, design and contracting teams to get to financial close. This will bring certainty ont he programme, cost and quality.
“This is a revenue project and the hub process is designed to get the best value for money solution for our client and the communities it serves.
“It is an exciting time for the project, having recently had planning approved. The main contractor Morrison Construction is currently in the tendering process and actively engaging with local contractors as we press ahead.”