Bid for new high school in Kelso

THREE years after a group of its senior pupils went public with their protests over its crumbling condition, a bid is to be made for government cash to replace Kelso High School.

Scottish Borders Council’s executive this week agreed to bid for almost £10million from the third phase of Scotland’s School of the Future programme.

The overall cost of the school’s construction is estimated at £14.8million, not including the cost of land.

If the bid is successful, the government contribution would come via the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) and be worth £9.9million, with the remainder coming from the local authority’s coffers.

Kelso High School came top of the priority list because it was the only secondary school to be rated poor for suitability in the council’s most recent school estate management plan, so meeting the SFT’s criteria for phase three cash.

The SFT’s approach is slightly different to the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) method which was used to fund the near £80million of projects that provided new secondary schools in Earlston, Duns and Eyemouth,

Funding for a new school is calculated using the current pupil role, an area per pupil, as well as an all-in construction cost per square metre.

Kelso’s roll is 650 pupils, but SFT cash will not available to cover the costs of building in any future expansion needs.

It was made crystal clear to councillors that, because of constrained financial circumstances, this was the “only game in town” if they wanted a new secondary school for Kelso any time soon.

Education portfolio holder Sandy Aitchison (Borders Party, Galashiels and District) cautioned that it was only a bid at this stage, with no guarantee of success, but he said it was still to be welcomed.

“Our three new PPP schools could be seen as the Rolls Royces of our schools, but here [at Kelso] we might have to get used to driving a Jag instead,” he said.

“But it’s still a good news story and something to be really excited about. But I must add, putting my Gala hat on, I’m disappointed.”

Finance portfolio holder, Councillor John Mitchell (SNP, Galashiels and District), also welcomed the bid, though he said: “Galashiels has perhaps been neglected in terms of investment into its primary and secondary schools, but hopefully we can correct that over the next five years.”

Kelso councillors Tom Weatherston (Con) and Alec Nicol (Lib Dem) were naturally happier than most.

“This is basically an ‘oven-ready’ project that could be built in four to five years, which is incredible,” Mr Nicol said, before urging the government’s joint venture delivery company, HubCo, which would build the school, to use as many local tradesmen as possible.

Councillor Catriona Bhatia (Lib Dem, Tweeddale West) said she did not want to “rain on anyone’s parade”, but wanted to know how the SFT scheme stacked up against the PPP method when it came to value for money.

A full evaluation of that aspect has not yet been done, but she was told that the SFT route would mean no costs from financing arrangements or legal work.

Chief financial officer David Robertson commented: “When we used PPP it was the only game in town but now there’s another game in town and this will be our only opportunity to procure a new Kelso High School.”

Mr Weatherston told TheSouthern: “Kelso is in desperate need of a new secondary school and has been for many years, and now the Scottish Government has presented us with a golden opportunity to give the town the school it deserves.”

In 2009, it was reported that a group of Kelso pupils, had spent three months assembling evidence of the decaying condition of their school, built in the 1930s.

Jenna Simpson, Becca Farries, Fraser Hastie, Ben Smith and Stacey Stewart trawled through SBC documents, gathered the views of fellow students and took photographs of leaking roofs, chipped paintwork, dirty stairs and ineffective heating systems.

Mr Weatherston paid tribute to them, saying: “The pupils ran a campaign in the Sunday papers highlighting the problems in the school and I’m sure if we’re successful they can join the many people who, over the years, have plugged away at this problem and will now be hoping our prayers will be answered.”