SNP - Tom Wills

Council / Council chamber could move to St Ringan’s

The old library on Hillhead is set to be refurbished for an estimated £1.6 million. Photo: Shetland News

THE CURRENT library in Lerwick could become the new home for council meetings if lending services move back to their old building a stone’s throw away at Lower Hillhead.

The idea comes amid long-held frustration that the current council chamber downstairs in Lerwick Town Hall is not fit for purpose.

Councillors will be asked at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday to approve proceeding with a previously agreed library refurbishment project that would see services move out of the current St Ringan’s building and revert back to its old location.

Could the current library building host council meetings in the future? Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

Shetland Islands Council’s assets, commissioning and procurement manager Robert Sinclair, however, said in a report that the estimated cost for this has now increased to around £1.6 million – meaning councillors would have to approve spending another £722,221 as only £900,000 has been budgeted for it so far.

The increase in its projected price is down to a rise in construction costs since the proposal was first approved in 2015, particularly for mechanical and electrical services, and an underestimation of fees and recharges.

The main library service has been located at the former St Ringan’s church since 2002, but it also operates from the adjoining learning centre as well as the old library building nearby.

Staff say the proposal to bring library services back under one roof in the old building would be more efficient than the current set-up.

With the highest lending rate per capita in Scotland, Shetland Library continues to be a popular council service.

Original proposals to revamp the whole of the old building were approved by councillors in 2015 but that refurbishment was never carried out when staff were decanted into the building after the local authority’s headquarters at 8 North Ness was evacuated over safety fears.

After officers suggested last year to refurbish only the outside of the old building, which is deteriorating and needs “intervention”, council officers now recommend to continue pursuing the original plan, which involves refurbishing the whole building including both floors and the basement, and then bring it back in use as a library.

The business case which provided the backdrop to the 2015 decision had been reviewed due to the increased estimated costs and also the impending redevelopment of the old Anderson High School site.

The Bruce Family Centre, which currently operates from the Bruce Hostel at the old school site, had been earmarked to transfer to the St Ringan’s building if library services moved out, but “alternatives are now being explored for those services and St Ringan’s is no longer the preferred option”.

This has led officers to propose that the building could be used as chamber for council meetings instead, and for the learning centre next door to be re-purposed as councillors’ offices.

“Members have raised concerns for some time regarding the current council chamber in the Town Hall,” Sinclair wrote in his report.

“Conditions are cramped, particularly when a high number of officers are present. When members of the public are expected in any quantity, they cannot be accommodated other than by video link or by holding the meeting in the main hall upstairs. This introduces its own issues, not least in terms of acoustics.

“Issues have also been raised at the lack of office and meeting space for members. By moving the council’s chamber to St Ringan’s, and making the current learning centre available to members, these issues would be largely resolved.”

Concerns were also recently raised over the current chamber at a recent meeting of Lerwick Community Council, which also uses the space.

Sinclair said minimal works would be required at St Ringan’s to transform it into council chambers. Feasibility work would be required to derive a cost plan.

A business justification case for the library project offers councillors a number of options for the old building, including doing nothing, selling the property, leasing it to others, demolition, refurbishing and re-purpose and refurbishing the exterior only.

The old library building was built in the mid-1960s and library was housed on the first floor with a museum located upstairs, but as the decades passed the building became constrained and services moved to St Ringan’s in 2002.

A feasibility study was completed in 2009 on the provision of central library services in Shetland following concerns that the new base at St Ringan’s was inadequate.

Reductions in the council’s capital programme, however, meant that the project never took off at the time.

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