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Education / Funding bid to be prepared for new Brae school after councillors back project

The Brae secondary department, pictured here, is joined by a primary and nursery. Photo © Google 2021

THE IDEA of building a new Brae school has inched one step forward after councillors supported the proposal.

The future of learning in the North Mainland village has been the subject of an initial strategic outline case which has been considered by councillors over the last week.

The preferred option picked by council staff is for a new build Brae school, which could cost between £16 million and £20 million.

The project is now to move to the next stage – an outline business case – after the report was backed by the full council on Wednesday.

Councillors also agreed that a bid be made to the Scottish Government’s Learning Estate Investment Programme for funding.

A number of issues with the existing primary and secondary buildings are highlighted in the Sustaining Education in Brae report, such as the deteriorating condition of the estate and its carbon footprint.

Options are also limited in the current buildings for the increasing number of pupils who need additional support needs (ASN) assistance.

Other problems raised in the report include space for staff from visiting services, a lack of flexible “break out spaces” for pupils – especially those with ASN – and inside and outside play and learning being compromised, which is now encroaching into the car park.

Brae is Shetland’s only age three to 18 school, and it includes four buildings which are said to be deteriorating in condition internally and externally.

The primary was built in the 70s and the secondary building followed in the early 1980s.

At Wednesday’s meeting Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall sought to question the climate-friendly credentials of a new build over refurbishment.

Schools manager Shona Thompson replied by saying the design of the current buildings does not lend itself well to energy efficiency upgrades.

But she said the subject was a “key outcome” of government funding.

Following more questioning from Lyall Thompson confirmed that the £16-20 million figure does not include additional expenses like demolition of the old building.

The project has been welcomed as a boost to the North Mainland following the economic downturn in the area sparked in part by the closure of Scatsta Airport.

Lyall questioned whether a new build may actually be too big – or too small – depending on whether some proposed developments come to fruition, such as the SaxaVord Spaceport and its associated work at Scatsta.

The size of the new build has been estimated from calculations through national guidelines amid a desire to make the school fit for purpose.

The meeting also heard that Brae was picked ahead of other schools in Shetland due to its condition rating.

Education and families committee chairman George Smith said he was “delighted” to see the report come forward.

“We should be ambitious about our desire to ensure that our young people have the best opportunity to fulfil their potential,” he said.

Smith acknowledged that there are a number of other schools in Shetland needing work.

“This project however comes out highest on our list at this point,” he explained.

The councillor added that it also has significant potential to extract external funding.

North Mainland member Emma Macdonald added: “I think it does show we have a real ambition as a council.”