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Site assessment work for long-awaited replacement to 'Dickensian' Ross-shire school building

By Scott Maclennan

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The St Clement's School buildings in Dingwall have been deemed not fit for purpose.
The St Clement's School buildings in Dingwall have been deemed not fit for purpose.

Highland Council is set to start work assessing a site for a replacement building for a special school housed in buildings dubbed "Dickensian".

The development could signal the beginning of the end for the long-running saga after a campaign by parents of pupils at St Clement’s in Dingwall that has lasted well over a decade.

Councillor Graham Mackenzie and Skye, Ross and Lochaber Holyrood candidate Kate Forbes have both said they are "delighted" by the significant new steps by the local authority.

Once described as “Dickensian” by Ms Forbes due to its outdated conditions deemed unsuitable for vulnerable children, St Clement’s has become ever more dilapidated though staff have been highly praised for the job they do in difficult conditions.

Fears had been rife that the town could lose the school after the chairman of the education committee Councillor John Finlayson said “provision” not “location” was the priority.

But those concerns appear to be subsiding after a site on Ferry Road emerged as the frontrunner for both parents and the local authority.

A determined campaign by parents for a replacement building has seen many setbacks along the way as the project appeared to drop down the council’s list of priorities amid competing claims for resources.

Chief executive Donna Manson has previously pledged to push its case but the absence of St Clement’s from last October's capital plan then sparked renewed calls for action.

Despite a number of false starts as well as the delays enforced by Covid, the council is now moving forward with site assessments to develop a shovel-ready project needed to qualify for vital Scottish Government funding.

Councillor Graham Mackenzie: Delighted to see progress. Picture: James MacKenzie
Councillor Graham Mackenzie: Delighted to see progress. Picture: James MacKenzie

Dingwall and Seaforth councillor Graham Mackenzie has been delighted by the development after witnessing the issue evolve over a number of years when he was still head teacher of Dingwall Academy.

“I’d just like to warmly welcome the news that there is now finally, after many years, the first green shoots of real progress," he said.

“I am, of course, particularly pleased for the parents, children and teachers of St Clement’s who have been campaigning for years for a new building.

“Hopefully, in the near future they will get a school they can be proud of.

“As a Dingwall councillor, I am delighted that the only site now deemed viable is within the town as I know how strongly the people of Dingwall feel about the school.

“Locating the school in Dingwall, as the parent council has said, makes sense for the school community, some of whom have to travel in from the west.

“I would also applaud the council for finding a site within the town after many previous attempts proved fruitless.”

Ms Forbes said: “I am delighted to see the council undertaking routine site investigations at a site in Dingwall.

“I’ve continued to engage with Highland Council over the last few months, and this is a step in the right direction.

“I know parents and teachers will be hugely relieved to see this progress. We must now keep pressing on, one step at a time, until a new school is built.”

A council spokeswoman said: “The council is undertaking routine ground investigations at one of six sites identified for consideration as a potential location for a replacement St Clement’s School, in line with a review of locations agreed in 2019.

“These investigations at Ferry Road, Dingwall, will help inform an options appraisal for possible development of the school and are a part of an overall site assessment of each location.

“Further information on this work will be reported to the Education Committee in May.”

Alternative sites for school flagged by local councillor

Parents voice concerns over slow pace of progress

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