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CHARLES BANNERMAN: Improvements at Inverness Royal Academy mightn’t go amiss

By Charles Bannerman

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Inverness Royal Academy.
Inverness Royal Academy.

I see that building issues have emerged yet again at Inverness Royal Academy, with parents and councillors expressing alarm about a large overcrowded stairway. However, this is simply the latest problem since these ill-fated premises opened at Culduthel in 2016.

I retired from the academy staff shortly before that, so never taught there. However, I did witness the planning of accommodation which was warmly welcomed to replace the 1977 building, to whose gratifying demise ex-Councillor Dave Henderson contributed greatly by famously dubbing it “a slum school”.

For 20 years, I managed Inverness Royal Academy’s media and communications and now cringe at one of my last press releases – a gushing revelation of how wonderful this replacement was going to be.

Well, that’s what they told me and surely anything would be better than the crumbling, leaky dump that was then knocked over before it fell over.

Wrong. There have been massive problems from the very start. A plethora of troublesome snagging issues just scratched the surface and drove my former colleagues to distraction. One thing went wrong after another, especially the hugely delayed gas supply, obliging science classes to use portable bunsen burners and causing farcical scenes with cookers in home economics.

The star turn was round the back where a thick gas pipe stuck out from a wall, with only a section of pathetic temporary fencing between it and a major disaster had a delivery van clipped it before they belatedly fixed it.

Charles Bannerman.
Charles Bannerman.

That’s what Highland Council and the Scottish Government got for their £34 million. Built for 1452 pupils, its current roll reportedly approaches 1400 and is projected to exceed capacity by 2025. Well, they will keep throwing houses up around it and these numbers are clearly behind fears about the wide stairs in the central atrium. This was allegedly predicted and reported to the council by staff years ago and has now well and truly come home to roost.

Although I never worked there, I’ve been in the place many times. When numbers were initially much lower, this never seemed a problem and crowded school stairways aren’t uncommon. However this one is so wide and so central to traffic flow that, despite two sets of railings, there’s now a clear risk. The concern is that the long, wide stairway creates a danger of potentially producing, if hardly on the same scale, the same kind of domino effect as in the 1971 Ibrox Disaster.

Pupils shouldn’t have to be educated or staff left responsible for their welfare in conditions like this.

I’m less sure about concerns that seating for packed lunches only accommodates 10 per cent of the roll. A certain number will divert to “school dinners” and there’s a daily exodus of vast hordes to Asda. As for complaints that they have to sit on the floor, this has been commonplace in schools since time began, although improvements mightn’t go amiss.

But when you add the lengthy history of building issues from before it was opened to this latest problem, you begin to realise that what was billed as a flagship £34 million school is anything but.

And ironically, while this 2016 structure has been congenitally blighted and the 1977 one all but fell apart, their predecessor Inverness Royal Academies, dating from 1895 at Midmills and 1792 in Academy Street are still going strong.

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