Earlston go-ahead for complex needs unit

The old Earlston High School
The old Earlston High School

Councillors fear budget constraints will scupper any hopes of a new complex needs centre being built for Borders children.

Members of Scottish Borders Council’s social work committee backed plans to site the unit at the former Earlston High School.

But a suggestion that a new facility could be built from scratch within its £1.5million budget, rather than converting the former ROSLA facility at the school, were questioned.

Councillor Catriona Bhatia said: “I am concerned the preferred model of developing the current building – whether it is a conversion or demolished – is not clear.

“I would be amazed if the current building can be made into something that looks like a prefab building.

“I am also very concerned about the size of the budget – £1.5million sounds a lot, but not when you are putting together a new building.”

Mrs Bhatia queried whether match funding could be explored, citing the Margaret Kerr Unit as an example of a project which successfully used the method.

Councillor Sandy Aitchison, executive member for education, added: “I would love to see a new-build.

“The second best option would be using the old building, but with the budget available that may be necessary. If you can provide a new facility within the budget available then good luck to you.”

Two options were put forward to councillors for the new centre, but with a location within Galashiels yet to be identified, Earlston was the preferred site.

SBC said it has good transport links along the A68 and the site is available and ready for the work to start.

A report from Stella Everingham, head of SBC’s integrated services, said: “The centre will be designed to enable access and ease of use for young people with varying levels of ability and mobility.”

The council’s review of current facilities for complex needs children, who are outwith mainstream education, claimed that provisions at St Ronan’s Primary in Innerleithen and Wilton Primary in Hawick were limited.

Other youngsters had been forced to travel outside the region and are believed to be costing SBC around £150,000 each per year.