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'Bombshell' revelations claim the Culloden Academy extension could be years late and need millions more in cash as fears mount about the key Highland Council project aimed at helping one of the most over-crowded schools in the north

By Scott Maclennan

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Frustration and fears have been simmering for months about the Culloden Academy extension.
Frustration and fears have been simmering for months about the Culloden Academy extension.

FEARS have been raised that a desperately needed extension to an overcrowded Inverness secondary school could cost millions more than anticipated.

It comes as Highland Council lodged plans for the installation of six “temporary modular units” comprising a total of 12 classrooms at Culloden Academy.

At a meeting of a stakeholders group, it is believed council officers revealed to worried parents that the longer-term project would not be completed until 2025 and that there was a predicted funding shortfall.

They did not confirm just how much more money is needed nor what can be done about the situation, saying only that there were “challenges” related to a prior 2023 deadline and £7.5 million budget.

The delay was reported in February and at that time parents heard an increased sum of £7.718 million was in place for the project, given the need to also replace ageing toilet blocks.

The HN has now learnt that the total shortfall is understood to be at least £5 million and by the time the extension is finished, the school is forecast to be 37 per cent over its 964-pupil capacity.

It currently has 1117 pupils, with council forecasts showing this will continue to grow with the roll reaching 1180 in 2022/23, 1319 (2025/26), 1467 (2031/32) and 1663 (2035/36 – the latest period for predictions). It is understood the extension would increase capacity to 1275.

The situation has angered local Highland councillors Glynis Campbell-Sinclair and Ken Gowans.

“Despite asking for – and receiving – reassurances at full council that the school would be completed on time and on budget by 2023, I feel frustrated that this information has only just come to light,” Cllr Gowans said.

“Senior officers who attended the stakeholder group meeting could offer no credible explanation, or indeed any solution, to the current financial position of the project.

“The proposal for several demountable cabins is only a temporary fix, and will not be a long-term solution.”

Cllr Campbell-Sinclair feared there not enough capital funding in the budget for the project.

“Parents, pupils and staff have been completely let down, having received assurances only a few months ago,” she said. “These assurances have proved worthless.”

They will table a motion to a meeting of the full council in June to secure the necessary funding to ensure that the Culloden Academy extension is completed on time.

Catherine Bunn, who was at the meeting and sits on Culloden Community Council, said what is currently affordable is an “insult”.

“The original allocation is absolutely nowhere near enough for Culloden Academy to take it forward,” she said. “I think they need to completely re-evaluate and reassess.

“Everybody in this community has been asking for an expansion and they keep delaying and delaying and delaying.”

Permission for the temporary classrooms has been sought for five years. Two old janitor’s buildings have been demolished to make way for them.

In the application, the council states: “The classrooms are required to alleviate pressure on the existing buildings until such time as new permanent accommodation has been procured and to provide potential decant accommodation for the school during construction of the same.”

A supporting statement explains: “The continued expansion of the school roll has generated a well-publicised need for additional accommodation at Culloden Academy, the procurement of which is now in train. The need for additional space is acute and to alleviate immediate, short-term pressures it is therefore proposed to bridge the procurement period for more permanent accommodation by installing a number of temporary, modular classroom units within the school grounds.”

A spokeswoman for the local authority said: “The council approved a re-profiled capital programme in January 2021 that includes a budget of £7.7 million for the first phase of this project. This first phase remains on target for 2023.

“As with every project, the council has the opportunity to review the budget for the works, and members will be reviewing the capital programme in Autumn 2021. However there are no additional funds for Culloden Academy available at this time.”

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