Delayed until 2025? Parents fear frustrating meeting with Highland Council no Culloden Academy extension shows August 2023 deadline is unrealistic
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Worried parents say they have lost all trust in Highland Council’s ability to ease overcrowding at an Inverness secondary school within the promised timescale.
It is now two years and nine months since the local authority earmarked £7.5 million to build an extension to 1117-pupil Culloden Academy, which is currently 15 per cent over-capacity.
By the project’s proposed finish date of August 2023, it is estimated the already crammed school could be 36 per cent over-subscribed.
On Monday evening, council officials and councillors attended an online parents’ council meeting with more than 30 concerned parents listening in.
It came in response to demands for a project update amid fears completion could be delayed until 2025.
Parents were given assurances the deadline remains achievable, but say the two officials who attended offered “no plans, no details and no answers”.
Instead, they learned that new plans must be drawn up, with the extension site now moved to green fields behind the existing school.
Monday’s meeting heard an increased sum of £7.718 million was in place for the project, given the need to replace ageing toilet blocks.
Two old janitor’s buildings will be demolished this summer to make way for mobile classrooms.
Speaking after the meeting, Culloden Community Council chairwoman Catherine Bunn said: “Siting this on a new piece of land is all well and justifiable, but they have done absolutely no site investigation work, no environmental survey, nothing. They came to the meeting with no designs or architectural briefings because there aren’t any.
“Despite promises, they actually came with less information than a year ago.
“I felt sorry for the officials at the meeting. This all falls back on Donna Manson, the chief executive. She is the one who can allocate the right resources to get this moving.
“Two years have been wasted without explanation. Parents feel disappointment and anger at being led up the garden path.
“We were led to believe we could trust them to move things forward.”
There is concern portable cabins will become a permanent school feature. The extension will increase school roll capacity to 1275, but by August 2024 the school roll forecast is 1311.
Fellow parent Alyson Hill said: “The officials had no answers. Everyone was astounded. It was just so disappointing and disheartening.”
The officials agreed to arrange regular stakeholders’ meetings, starting this month.
Jeni Alexander, the parent council vice-chairwoman, said: “We’re no further forward than 12 months ago. All we got shown at the meeting was a very basic screenshot of some blocks on a map. The chief executive is not giving this the resources, time or energy it needs.”
Culloden and Ardersier councillor Trish Robertson, who chaired the online meeting, doubts the August 2023 target can be met.
She said: “We’re almost three years down the line since that money was awarded.
“Every time I asked, I was told work on the plans was ongoing, so it was very disappointing on Monday to discover that, actually, there are no plans.
“The timescales don’t add up in my mind.”
A council spokeswoman said: “The significant delay in this project is linked to difficulties in the construction industry and the impact of the national pandemic. Despite this, sufficient resources have been directed to this project and there has been no reduction in staffing.”
The council's estate strategy manager Robert Campbell, who attended the parents' meeting, said “A contractor is about to be appointed for the refurbishment of toilets in the main building, demolition of the two vacant houses, and the installation of the modular units to provide 12 additional classrooms with toilets.
"All of this work is programmed for completion by the start of the new school session in August.
“The approved budget for the phase 1 project is £7.718M. This will provide a new classroom block, synthetic playing field, new access road and car park, and is programmed for completion by August 2023. Some refurbishment of vacated classroom areas in the main building will continue after this date.
“The Council agreed in January that the modular accommodation would be funded separately and not from the approved Phase 1 budget.
“All or some of the modular units may have to be retained after August 2023. A strategic review of secondary school roll pressures across Inverness will be carried out which will help to inform any decisions on further capital investment required at Culloden Academy after 2023.
“A stakeholder group will be established which will include representatives from the Parent Council. This group will meet regularly from February onwards.”
Dr James Vance, head teacher at Culloden Academy said: “The representative staff and parents look forward to attending the first Stakeholder Group meeting on 24 February and to working with the Estates Team to move this project forward and deliver meaningful improvements to Culloden Academy.”