School to get 36m upgrade

A CRUMBLING Inverness school recently branded a slum is to receive 36 million of improvements, the Inverness Courier can reveal.

Work to replace dilapidated classroom huts at Inverness Royal Academy, one of the city's largest secondaries, will be earmarked as a priority in a new five-year spending plan drawn up by Highland Council's ruling administration.

However, several other flagship projects including a new Inverness Museum and Art Gallery and five care homes are set to be shelved as the local authority copes with a minimum 10 million annual reduction in its capital budget.

The Academy's acting head, Robin Fyfe, welcomed news that the school was to be a spending priority.

"The improvements are much needed," he said. "Parents and staff have been very anxious that something be put in place to meet the needs of pupils and their learning environment. If this is the case and we are being moved up the priority list then they will very much welcome that."

The school, which currently has 970 pupils, is coming under pressure from a rapidly-rising school roll. Fourteen of its classrooms were built more than 30 years ago as temporary huts and are no longer fit for 21st century education. Their poor condition has prompted widespread criticism from parents and last year the school was described as a slum by Councillor David Henderson, ward member for Inverness Ness-side.

Mr Fyfe would also like to see the creation of a new social area for students, an expansion of the canteen and refurbishment of the science labs.

Brian Lamond, chairman of the school board, who has previously expressed concern that spending cuts could scupper plans to upgrade the Academy, was also delighted.

"Inverness Royal Academy really needs this extension," he said. "In 18 months the school will be overflowing."

The council, which must make revenue cuts of 41 million over the next three years, is also facing a reduction in capital spending from the current 70 million a year to between 50 million and 60 million because of smaller government grants.

Budget leader, Councillor David Alston, revealed that over recent weeks the administration had assesed more than 100 business cases before putting together its list of spending priorities.

He said whilst the authority will not have the money for some projects, a higher proportion of capital will be spent on schools. "We will be investing in Inverness Royal Academy," he confirmed.

"The recommendation is that 36 million is needed to do the work."

Investment in the school is likely to be spread over the next five years, although it could be longer depending on the level of supported capital the council receives from the Scottish Government. This is unlikely to be known until later in the year.

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