SCOTTISH deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney formally opened the new Anderson High School and halls of residence in Lerwick on Monday – nearly a year after they opened their doors to pupils.
The SNP politician was joined by a host of council representatives and students as the £55.75 million school facility got its official launch after opening for youngsters back in October.
But the event was used as something of a protest by local company Shetland Quality Construction (SQC), which claimed it was still owed around £1.8 million from main contractor Morrison Construction for ground work they carried out on site.
An SQC van had been parked in front where the opening ceremony was due to take place, but police officers attended to ask it to be moved – with managing director Ivor Smith ultimately driving it a few metres out of the way.
“I was here to speak with Morrisons to see when we’re planning to get paid – if we’re planning to get paid,” Smith said, adding that the company extracted more rock from the ground than anticipated.
“It’s a lot of money for a small building contractor and it’s just pretty sad and terrible the way they’ve treated us.”
But the mainland based Morrison Construction said in a statement that SQC had “failed to complete the works as contracted and as a result was replaced by other sub-contractors”.
“All monies owed to Shetland Quality Construction Ltd have been paid,” a spokesperson said. “Any further claim is unwarranted.”
The reason why the formal launch event took place nearly a year after pupils moved in, meanwhile, is thought to be partly down to Swinney’s busy schedule.
Construction of the five-floor school, which has a capacity for nearly 1,200 pupils, began in 2015.
The nearby halls of residence can cater for 100 people from outwith Lerwick to live in during term time.
The Scottish Government paid for around two thirds of the cost of buildings, with the project planned and procured by hubNorth Scotland and developed by the Scottish Futures Trust.
MSP Swinney was joined by the likes of head teacher Valerie Nicolson and Shetland Islands Council’s director of children’s services Helen Budge as he unveiled plaque on a new broch-like cairn built outside the school.
“It’s vital that we have high quality learning environments for children right across Scotland, and I’m particularly pleased to have been able to open Anderson High School today,” Swinney said.
“It’s a joint investment between the Scottish Government and the Shetland Islands Council and it creates for young people in this community a really outstanding educational facility which I’m certain will be well used to enhance the opportunities for young people in these communities.”
Budge said it was a “very proud day” and paid tribute to Swinney for pushing the project ahead while he was finance minister despite some changes in accounting rules at a European level threatening to delay it.
“It’s absolutely great that he allowed it to happen, and we’re now at the stage where it’s here and the young folk have been in for nearly year,” she said.
Budge added that snagging work has been ongoing since last year to fine-tune the building, with that due to be completed by the end of year.
Council convenor Malcolm Bell said the day was important for the whole of Shetland – not just Lerwick.
“It’s the first high school that’s been opened in Lerwick since 1862, so it’s really a momentous day,” he said.
“It’s a brilliant school, it’s got all the modern facilities, and we’ve got a wonderful halls of residence. So it’s a really, really big day for the whole of Shetland, not just Lerwick, and this is going to educate and teach Shetland’s young people for many, many years ahead.”
The education secretary, who also visited Dunrossness Primary School at Shetland College, arrived in the isles after continued criticism over the Scottish Government’s desire to keep standardised tests for primary one pupils.
All opposition parties clubbed together at the Scottish Parliament last week to vote in favour of halting the assessments amid claims that they have caused stress and upset for youngsters.
While the decision was not binding, Swinney said he would consider the issue – but speaking on Monday he reiterated his feeling that tests were right for primary one age pupils.
“Parliament obviously voted on this question last Wednesday and I firmly believe that standardised assessment is required to provide moderation across the country, but also to ensure that the needs of young people can be identified and met at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said.
“My focus is on closing the attainment gap – standardised assessment helps us to identify where that gap is opening up, and how we can close it as quickly as parliament.
“I said I will consider the issues. I will discuss them with our local authority partners and I’ll return to parliament with an update on how we intend to take things forward.”
In response to SQC’s claims it had not been paid in full, Swinney pledged to look further into the issue.
“Wherever contractual agreements are reached, contracts should be fulfilled, both by the work being done and payments being made,” he said.
“I’m not familiar with the details of all of it. I will enquire about it, and if there’s anything we can do to try to help resolve the matters we will try to do that.”