Progress on planned replacement of Dingwall special school St Clement's welcomed as consultation proposed after Highland Council update
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THE prospect of replacing a Ross-shire special school building slammed "unfit for purpose" with a new multimillion-pound facility after decades of campaigning has been hailed a major breakthrough.
A contractor to build a replacement to St Clement's School in Dingwall is set to be appointed by Highland Council which aims to end a 25-year wait to replace buildings declared "Dickensian" by the local MSP.
The local authority has pledged to borrow the £13 million needed to replace the school with the Dingwall and Seaforth committee this week told by estate strategy manager Robert Campbell that it is “the first time we have an approved budget in the capital programme”.
The earmarked opening is August 2025.
After a potential site on Ferry Road was deemed unsuitable, another has been found on Docharty Brae. Officials are to meet land agents next week with pre-application advice already sought.
The focus is now on getting a statutory public consultation early next year before the May council elections to avoid further delay.
Mr Campbell said: “It is moving forward positively and we are keen to really mop up all this before the end of December. I think the key factor in the timescale is the statutory consultation which can take more than a year.If we can get to a state before Christmas where we are happy with what we are proposing that would allow a report to be drafted and taken to the February education committee.
“Obviously with the election coming up we are keen to hit the February date – if we have to wait until after the election then that would extend the timeline quite considerably.I think that is all positive at the moment, we are working through the final issues with planning and roads and another one with the agent of the landowner as well to start discussing the terms for purchasing the land.”
He hopes a contractor will be appointed "soon" to shore-up supply chain costs, provide project certainty and help meet energy efficiency targets.
Chairman of the Dingwall and Seaforth committee Graham Mackenzie said: “This is undoubtedly the most substantial progress made so far on finally delivering a new build school for St Clement's, and not a moment too soon.The council is to be applauded in bringing this forward after only relatively recently finalising the funding for the school and we must now move to the public consultation well before the May council elections.
"It is essential that this good work is now built on in the coming months and we are able to move at speed to get the pupils and staff the school they deserve as soon as practically possible."
Christyna Ferguson, who has led for the parent council on the issue of a new build, welcomed the news even though it comes too late for her own child at the school. She said it is vital the facilities can be used by other people with special needs in the area.
She said: “We are heartened by the progress updates from the Dingwall and Seaforth area committee as a continuation of our positive relationship with the Highland Council. After decades of campaigning and our children's ongoing hardship we urge both the Highland Council and the local community to work with us in ensuring the new build makes full use of the opportunity in front of us and is afforded all necessary facilities not just for our children but for the wider community too."