THE CONSTRUCTION of the new Anderson High School in Lerwick has grabbed plenty of attention over the last couple of years ahead of its expected opening this autumn. But the long-awaited replacement Eric Gray Resource Centre, located not too far away at Seafield, is also progressing well and is on course to open next year.
The existing centre, which is just a stone’s throw away from its replacement, has been open for around four decades, but its condition has deteriorated over time and it is no longer regarded as fit for purpose.
It provides specialist day services for adults with learning disabilities, autistic spectrum disorders and complex needs.
Shetland Islands Council has invested around £5.6 million into the construction of its replacement following years of planning, with feasibility study first taking place back in 2006.
It has been a long time coming for users, family members and carers, who had dearly pinned their hopes on the council giving the go-ahead for many years.
The purpose-built facility will feature around 70 different rooms over a floor space of around 1,800 square metres, from sensory rooms and training kitchens to chill-out zones, while there will also be gardens and a polytunnel.
The construction, led by DITT, began in August last year and it is expected to be completed in September 2018 – on time, and on budget.
Just over £3 million of the council’s outlay is coming from capital funding, and the rest is being borrowed.
Shetland News was given a tour of the building site on Thursday afternoon with South Mainland councillor Allison Duncan and Shetland Islands Council’s adult services manager Clare Scott.
Duncan, who is the vice-chairman of health and social care partnership the Integration Joint Board, said the new building was “long overdue”.
Highlighting the need for new premises, he said a few years ago water had to be collected in buckets inside the building as it dripped through the roof following a bout of heavy rain.
Duncan also praised how the project has involved around 20 local people through DITT being appointed contractor.
The new building in its current form does not offer much of a glimpse into what the facilities will ultimately look like, but it provides a sense of scale and highlights a clever layout designed to cater for a variety of needs.
Richard Gibson Architects were tasked with designing the building, which also has the potential to be extended.
Unlike the cramped current building, the corridors will be large enough to cater for all wheelchairs and will help to greatly improve accessibility.
Scott said the replacement centre, which will have its own name, will enable the council to base its services in one place rather than having to spread them out across Lerwick.
“At the moment what we have is dispersed services,” she said.
“We use facilities at Kantersted here at the original Eric Gray, but we also have a shared space at the ASN department at the school, and use other community facilities such as Islesburgh and Sandveien Neighbourhood Centre.
“But what we’ll have in the new centre is a hub that is purpose built for the group. It will be fully accessible, with good toilet facilities and fully accessible kitchens.”
Scott said there are no plans to recruit extra staff for the service – but there is an increasing demand for resources as people live longer.
“What we do have is a rising demographic in that there are more people requiring the service and are eligible for the service,” she said.
“But the council has a zero based budgeting approach, so we have to manage how we do all of that budgeting, and that includes staffing as well.”
So what will happen with the old building? Project manager Colin Petrie said it could either be re-used or sold on.
“I think at the moment the building will go back into the asset and properties portfolio,” he said.
“There will be decisions on whether there is an alternative use for it, or if it will be sold. But there’s nothing firm yet.”
Fundraising has been continuing in earnest for the Eric Gray Centre’s Hansel fund, which pays for extra resources and equipment.
Neil Risk is a long-standing campaigner for a new centre and is a member of the Shetland Special Needs Action Group.
He said a replacement Eric Gray is “fundamental” for the needs of adults with disabilities in Shetland.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Risk said.
“The council has spent lots of money on lots of other things which I’m sure were necessary and admirable, but I think this is something that they needed to do.
“I’m glad they committed to it, and I hope they continue to commit to it in the long term.”