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2021 must be year of breakthrough on Dingwall special school replacement, says local MSP; Push for action on St Clement's building deemed 'unfit for purpose'

By Scott Maclennan

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Christyna Fergusson with her daughter Moir, a pupil at St Clement's. Parents have campaigned for years for a new school.
Picture: James Mackenzie
Christyna Fergusson with her daughter Moir, a pupil at St Clement's. Parents have campaigned for years for a new school. Picture: James Mackenzie

THE prospect of a breakthrough in long-stalled plans to replace a Ross-shire school building slammed totally unfit for the vulnerable children it caters for has been welcomed after years of broken promises.

Dingwall MSP Kate Forbes said this week that 2021 must be "the year of progress" in replacing the town's dilapidated Victorian-era St Clement's School for children with additional support needs.

She described the building as "Dickensian" while Ross-based children's minister Maree Todd declared it "unfit for purpose".

Dingwall councillor Graham Mackenzie previously criticised the "lamentable" pace of progress warning that to bid for Scottish Government funding, a "shovel ready" site needed to be identified. Ward colleague Margaret Paterson is also pushing for action.

And there was dismay earlier in the yeaer when the school wasn't included in the council capital spending plan.

Now, MSP Kate Forbes has urged Highland Council to keep its commitment to taking forward an options appraisal exercise for a new site after another year "without any clear progress".

She has been told by the local authority’s head of education, Nicky Grant, that work on site appraisal "is largely complete". She said: "The council is now taking stock of that work, with a view to sharing that with parents early in 2021 and discussing next steps."

That would pave the way for a statutory consultation.

Highland Council had previously promised to hold a consultation on future options for St Clement’s before the end of 2019.

Nicky Grant.
Nicky Grant.

Ms Grant's letter also states that funding to deliver a new school "still has to be identified" with the council facing "a range of competing demands for investment, across the school estate and other infrastructure requirements".

She says the pandemic "has also significantly impacted the council’s financial position".

She said: "The council will continue to work collectively with parents, local elected members, local MSPs and other stakeholders, to achieve consensus on the best long-term solution for a replacement for St Clement's."

MSP Kate Forbes: '2021 must be year of progress.'
MSP Kate Forbes: '2021 must be year of progress.'

Ms Forbes said said : "It is very positive to hear about the options appraisals work and the commitment to inform parents in early 2021.Considering the need for a new school building has been well documented and unanimously agreed for many years, it is important that 2021 is the year of progress.

“Parents, teachers and pupils deserve a school that is fit for purpose and I hope that we can work together to get agreement on a site.”

Christyna Fergusson, who has a daughter at St Clement's and who is the head of the parent council’s committee dedicated to working with the council on a new school, voiced concern that the local authority "persistently ignore, stall, and renege on promises" and stated: “I would like to clarify Highland Council misinformation regarding sites – there are suitable sites, we have already discussed this at length, the issue is the Highland Council have done nothing to take forward a site.

“Again we plead for public support. The parent council would like to use all its resources to fundraise to contribute to the cost of a new school – are the Highland Council prepared to engage with this opportunity?

“The parent council’s objective is to build a sustainable eco-friendly, community-serving, multi-purpose school with an accessible swimming pool – something the community and our children really need.

“That serves the children by giving them the facilities to improve vital life and social skills whilst serving the broader community."

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