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Up to £10 million of funding for overcrowded Culloden Academy could get the green light this week if councillors approve massive borrowing plans but wary parents say they still need to see the plans

By Scott Maclennan

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Catherine Bunn outside Culloden Academy. Picture: Callum Mackay
Catherine Bunn outside Culloden Academy. Picture: Callum Mackay

THE future of an overcrowded Inverness secondary school will be decided this week.

On Thursday, Highland councillors will debate whether to invest £19.2 million into dealing with capacity issues at Culloden Academy. It is £10 million more than the previous figure thought to be needed for the school.

But officials have warned that this huge level of spending will only be enough to address school roll pressures until the 2028/29 term.

If agreed, the cash would pay for planned extension work but temporary classrooms in cabins would remain in place until 2029.

At the crunch meeting, councillors will be told that if the extra £10 million funding is not agreed then the current extension work – due for completion in 2023 – will immediately reach full occupancy, posing a significant problem amid the housing boom in east Inverness.

Growing populations in Tornagrain and Stratton are likely to be served by a new secondary school and three new primaries, eventually. Council officials are already looking at how this will shape a long-term strategy and how to seek investment from Scottish Government.

Until then, secondary school children in these areas are likely to go to Culloden Academy, which has 1117 pupils – 15 per cent above capacity.

Councillors originally approved plans for an extension project in May 2018 which was earmarked for completion in August 2023.

After it emerged that the initial £7.5 million budget – later raised to £9.2 million – was woefully inadequate, pressure mounted on the council to take action amid a wave of dismay among parents and a bitter political war of words between local members.

Parent council member Catherine Bunn, who has two teenagers at the school, said: “Although they are asking for £10 million, there has been no information about what that £10 million is going to pay for.

“They are deciding what money they are going to throw at the project rather than actually scoping the project then working out what the budget is going to be.

“A working consultation group actually needs to be consulted and then information fed back and for us to feedback information to parents.

“Decisions are being taken with the long-term vision in mind and that is great but we need to be aware of that and that needs to be explained to us.”

The extension currently under way, is being considered by council officials as the initial phase of what is a “development masterplan to eventually replace the entire school building in a phased manner”.

The current extension will comprise classrooms for science, art and drama with vacated areas in the main building refurbished for use as either classrooms or converted for use as dining, social or other uses.

The additional accommodation – temporary cabin classrooms – being installed and a new synthetic playing field, will provide the additional capacity to meet the school roll demand until to 2028/29, based on existing forecasts.

Further work may be done to pupil toilets and specific improvements related to anticipated pressure on school subjects.

Most of this is expected to be done by August 2024.

Along with four other priority schools – St Clements in Dingwall, Park Primary in Invergordon, Beauly Primary and Dunvegan Primary – the council is asking members to agree to borrow what is needed on top of what it has already vowed to spend. In total £54 million is set to be spent.

The council’s head of corporate finance Edward Foster said the borrowing would “represent a significant long-term financial commitment for the council” – adding an extra £2.4-£2.5 million a year in loan charges between 2025/26 and 2044/45.

At present, it is anticipated that all the new buildings will be operational by August 2024, apart from St Clements which is likely to take an additional year.

Each project will have a stakeholder group comprising parents, staff, local councillors, community councils, and any other community partners that may be affected by the proposals. In addition, a strategy will also be developed for consulting with pupils to capture their feedback.

Council education committee chairman John Finlayson said: “Providing the best possible school learning environment and facilities continues to be one of our key priorities.

“To help us to achieve this goal, we will be engaging and working closely with each of the five schools and their stakeholders. This will make sure that communities are provided the opportunity to help shape the proposals which will improve the learning environment for many children in Highland.”

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