Sep 28 2012 by Jackie Grant, Dumfries Standard Friday
Superschool cash promise
A MULTI-MILLION pound superschool for Dumfries has taken a step closer to reality.
The Scottish Government announced on Wednesday that it will provide up to two thirds of the £30 million needed for the “ground-breaking” project.
The superschool, which may be located at the Crichton campus, could be built within the next three years.
Councillor Gail Macgregor, chairman of the education committee, hailed the news as “really exciting” and an “enormous step forward in modernising senior education in Dumfries”.
Councillor Macgregor added: “We’ve been talking about this for 10 years and we’re now getting to the stage where this ground-breaking proposal could become a reality.”
The Scottish Government confirmed it will provide £1.25 billion for the construction on 67 new schools across the country.
An extra 12 will be built in the third and final phase of Scotland’s Schools for the Future programme after £80 million was brought forward in last week’s budget.
That includes a superschool for all fourth, fifth and sixth year pupils in Dumfries.
A council spokeswoman said the estimated cost for the school is not yet known.
But she added: “The Scottish Government base their funding on standard metrics for secondary schools, which would indicate an overall cost for the facility of around £25 to £30 million.”
In July, councillors agreed to proceed with a consultation process on a new establishment with a report expected to be compiled on the views of teachers, parents and pupils.
Colin Grant, director of education, said at that month’s education committee meeting: “This is a ground-breaking, innovative project that could benefit everyone if it goes ahead.
“Dumfries could be first in Scotland to begin to be more flexible with our school structure and take full advantage of other educational opportunities on our doorstep.
“Our most important task now is to fully consult with everyone on the details of the proposals, in order to determine the best way forward for Dumfries.”
But the local Labour Party this week claimed the new school was “a done deal” after Education Secretary Michael Russell’s funding announcement.
The group’s education spokesperson Jeff Leaver said: “The council are supposed to be consulting on whether to go ahead with a new senior school at the Crichton and downgrading the existing four schools or maintaining the current four schools as senior schools.
“There is a lot merit in both options and we should be having a proper debate on which option is best from an educational point of view. However, this announcement by the Scottish Government that funding will only be available if the option of a new senior school is built at the Crichton, shows that the decision is pretty much a done deal.
“It is clear that the council has negotiated funding from the government, based only on the option of building a new school to force councillors down that route.
“That means that if councillors went down the option of staying with the current four senior schools, we wouldn’t get funding. This strikes me as blackmail to force only one outcome, which is disappointing given that the consultation process hasn’t really started yet.
“There is also no funding being announced to upgrade the four remaining schools, which are already in a poor state. The council will not only have to make up the shortfall for building a new school at the Crichton because the Scottish Government announcement won’t fund it all, but the council will also have to find money to upgrade the four remaining schools.
“Local people will be concerned that the long term aim is to let one or two of the remaining four schools to simply whither on the vine and eventually close”.
Councillor Macgregor insisted no final decision had been made and the views of teachers, parents and pupils will be taken into account.
She said: “We have a very clear timeline for full consultation which should be complete by January next year.
“No final decision has been made but if we hadn’t put in a bid for funding, we would need to have waited until 2018. It just happens that the timing of the Scottish Government funding has come at the beginning of our consultation.”
Councillor Macgregor added: “The idea is to modernise senior education in Dumfries and this is an enormous step forward. After all these years of talking about it, it’s really exciting to get to this stage.”