SHETLAND Islands Council has been invited to make a bid for the bulk of the cost of a new secondary school in Lerwick by the Scottish government.
Education secretary Michael Russell met a senior Shetland councillor and two top officials for half an hour on Wednesday afternoon, during which he said he would welcome an application to the Scottish Futures Trust.
This is the closest the council has ever come to the possibility of government cash to help build a replacement for the biggest school in Shetland.
Two years ago the council was on the verge of spending £49 million from its own reserves on building a new Anderson High School next door to the existing school at The Knab.
That plan was scrapped when councillors staged a dramatic last minute U-turn in favour of a new build at Staney Hill, next to Clickimin Leisure Complex, after builders had already arrived on site to start work in September 2009.
Now the council is desperately trying to save money and admits it no longer has the reserves to build such a large scale project without external help.
On Wednesday SIC education and families committee Betty Fullerton led a delegation including director of children’s services Helen Budge and head of finance Hazel Sutherland to Holyrood to see if the government could assist.
Afterwards, councillor Fullerton said: “We certainly had a positive meeting with Mike Russell, there is no doubt about that, and we now have an open door to put in an application in the new year, provided councillors agree that is what they want to do.”
Hopes are relatively high, with the Scottish Futures Trust ready to open a new round of funding in early 2012.
Mrs Fullerton and Mrs Budge met the SFT’s director of finance Peter Reekie on Thursday morning, who explained that in the past the government has paid up to 67 per cent of the cost of a new school.
Mrs Fullerton said that the next step would be for councillors to decide on 7 December whether they wish to underline their earlier decision to build at Staney Hill, and if they wished to follow through with an SFT bid.
If the council does go ahead, a great deal of work will have to be carried out very quickly to put together a preliminary application for funding.
The council only has £22 million available for capital projects over the next five years, significantly less than the cost of a new secondary school in Lerwick.