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Council / Councillors unanimously support new Brae High School project

PLANS to bid for funding to build a new high school in Brae have received a unanimous thumbs up from members of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee.

The local authority is now likely to seek Scottish Government funding, with the government expected to invite bids for the final tranche of money from its learning estate investment programme by the end of November this year.

It is estimated that the cost of replacing the existing Brae High School, which last year had a pupil roll of 328, will be between £16 million and £20 million.

At Monday morning’s education and families committee meeting, members heard from SIC executive schools manager Shona Thompson that the school’s condition is currently graded ‘B’.

The schools service put forward a new build as its preferred option to address a number of issues highlighted by the parent council relating to the building, its surrounding area and car park.

Thompson said the government would not expect a full business case to be put together in time for November, but it would expect a political commitment from the council to support the project.

SIC education and families committee chairman George Smith.
Committee chair councillor George Smith.

Committee chairman George Smith said the majority of Scotland’s 32 councils had succeeded in bidding for the learning estate funding and “I think there is a desire within the Scottish Government that all parts of Scotland should be included if at all possible”.

North Mainland councillor Emma MacDonald said she was “delighted” to see the report and described the ambition to build a new school in her constituency as “a positive step forward for the whole of Shetland”.

“It’s a fantastic school with dedicated staff,” she said, “but it’s clear the current buildings need significant work, both internally and externally.”

MacDonald said it had been a difficult economic time with businesses shutting down and folk losing jobs, and an investment “in the future of our young folk” was just what the area needed.

Smith agreed, saying that during a recent parent council meeting he attended the “enthusiasm and support for the school in the community is very noticeable”, while he noted a genuine concern regarding the school’s condition and its suitability to continue providing a 21st century education.

Brae High School is the only school in the islands catering for pupils from the age of three up to 18. The primary department was built in the 1970s, followed by the secondary department in the early 1980s.

A replacement school with existing pupil numbers would cost up to £13 million. A ‘Shetland uplift’, factoring in the added cost of building in the islands, of 32 per cent would take that figure to between £16 million and £17 million.

If the building was designed to factor in a potential rise in the school roll the cost could come to £20 million.

The previous council term from 2012 to 2017 was dominated by the spectre of school closures. Smith said that had “created a lot of division and mistrust and anxiety” in communities, and at the start of the present term he had been “determined this council should not go down the same path”.

The committee chairman said he supported making a funding bid to the government with “no hesitation”.

It will now go before the council’s policy and resources committee and the full council for further approval at their September meetings.

Members also gave their backing for an outline business case to be drawn up, with the project to be provisionally added into the local authority’s 2022-2027 asset investment plan subject to a full business case being approved.