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Culloden parents slam ‘unacceptable’ design changes and delays to new school build

Culloden Academy.
Culloden Academy.

Culloden Academy parent council has written to Highland Council to express their ‘concern and disappointment’ following a recent stakeholder meeting.

They say the timescale has slipped again, to February 2025, and the new building has shrunk by 300 square metres.

In a letter seen by the Press & Journal, parent council chairwoman Jeni Alexander wrote that one of their main concerns is the change in the floor plans.

Ms Alexander says the total area is considerably smaller than plans last seen in January, with the community given “no notification” that this would be the case.

This is the second time in a few months that Culloden Academy parent council has written to Highland Council with concerns over the new school plans.

Highland Council told interested parties last week the Culloden Academy roll could exceed 1,400 in the next decade.

‘Bright and airy’ to ‘building block’ design

Parents are also unhappy with the latest designs for the new building. They write:

“The omission of a learning plaza and the central stair case is very concerning, and not acceptable. This was an important feature in the new building.

“There is already a lack of social spaces for students to gather in the school and not to have this in the new extension is conflicting with previous meeting discussions.”

Culloden Academy is one of the more advanced projects in the council’s capital build, but stakeholders say the new designs take a ‘basic block approach’.

Furthermore, they say the design has changed “from a modern, light, airy building to a basic block approach.”

Previous designs included a long corridor on the ground floor, which stakeholders accepted because the open space above made it light and spacious. However, they say this has now gone, creating “a long, dark corridor of science labs”.

The parent council is particularly concerned that there’s not enough space allocated for the art and home economics departments.

Data doubts

Beyond the design itself, Culloden Academy parents have cast doubt on the council’s management of the project.

In their letter to chief executive Donna Manson, the parent council suggests the new school building should be categorised as high risk.

They say previous RAG (red, amber, green) assessments don’t take account of the council’s uncertainty over its capital budget.

The budget is currently under review due to pressures from rising inflation.

Culloden Academy parent council has written to Highland Council chief executive Donna Manson outlining concerns about the project management.

At the same time, parents say the council has revised Culloden Academy school roll projections multiple times.

Mark Rodgers, executive chief officer for Highland Council, provided figures at the stakeholder meeting last week. He said the school roll will hit 1,203 this year, 1,293 by 2026/27 and 1,391 by 2031/32.

Despite the growing size of the school population, budget pressures mean the building will be trimmed back by 150 square metres per floor, 300 square metres in total.

Ms Alexander writes: “We have serious concerns over the methodology and data inputs for the school roll forecast and how it is currently being calculated.

“How does Highland Council calculate our projected rolls with all the new houses being built?”

Council has ‘dithered’ on new school for Culloden Academy

While Culloden Academy is a priority build for Highland Council, Mr Rodgers was frank in his assessment of the budgets.

Some 36% of Highland schools are in category C – ‘poor’. And inflationary pressures mean the capital and revenue funding won’t go far enough.

Inverness councillor Duncan Macpherson attended the meeting. He said the current state of play is “disappointing”.

“We can all understand enforced delays, circumstances beyond our control like Covid and world events, but Highland Council had the opportunity to progress this faster.

“In my opinion, because the council has dithered, it’s resulted in extra cost for the hard-pressed taxpayer and anguish for these pupils.

“The council had the ball at its feet two years ago.”

Catherine Bunn, parent council member and community council chair, is one of the stakeholders raising concern about project slippage at Culloden Academy.

Ms Alexander’s letter also slams the delayed timetable. She writes: “Phase 1 was deemed essential and awarded funding in 2018. Here we are four years later still discussing the plan, do you think this is an acceptable situation?”

She adds: “This chopping and changing is causing additional delays and continually eroding the available budget, which is in no-one’s interest.

“In short, we feel that the latest proposed design of the Phase 1 school extension will not
meet the needs of the school and we are disappointed it has had substantial changes to
the design discussed months previously, without proper stakeholder engagement.”

A Highland Council spokesperson said: “Pre-construction stage design and planning works continue for Culloden Academy. Officers recently provided an update to stakeholders last week and we will continue to engage with the stakeholder group.

“The council has received the letter from the Parent Council and we will look to respond in due course.”

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