Council could demolish three Aberdeenshire academies

Isobel Davidson at the former Ellon Academy
Isobel Davidson at the former Ellon Academy

Three former Aberdeenshire schools could face demolition as the council looks to the future of the sites.

Ellon, Mearns and Alford academies have all been replaced by multi-million pound community campuses by Aberdeenshire Council in the last two years.

And last month the local authority put a contract for refurbishment and demolition asbestos surveys of the buildings out to tender, despite a project to salvage one of the structures for the local community.

Yesterday the council said the contract would allow it to prepare for all outcomes before its local area and policy and resources committees are given the final say.

The former Mearns Academy site has been the subject of a community consultation in Laurencekirk through Planning Assist Scotland in recent months.

Local groups have been seeking the views of residents on what they would like done with the former school, and its playing fields, with the most popular idea to reopen it as a swimming pool.

Mike Robson, of the Laurencekirk Development Trust, has been among those leading the project.

Last night he said: “We have presented a business case to them which we think is a fair interpretation of what we’d expect to be able to do with the premises, and to demonstrate the challenges and viability of the project.

“We just have to wait and see what they say. We know there is huge pressure on the council to sell off all the land they can to fill their capital budget gap.

“We are thinking it is cheaper and better use of this than demolishing it and starting again.”

Councillors will decide the most viable option to pursue for the old Mearns Academy at a meeting of the committee at a future date.

Similar decisions on the futures of Alford and Ellon will also be made by councillors in the near future.

Yesterday, a council spokesman said the local authority was still “looking at proposals for the future use of all sites”, adding: “We are exploring everything.

“The demolition works will be the subject of further reports to area committee but the planning and tender process is in train to ensure that, if approved by committee, the works can proceed forthwith.”

Isobel Davidson said the former Ellon Academy site offers a “great opportunity” for use as a doctor’s surgery.

She added: “There is all sorts of things we can do. I think we all agree the former academy building is not fit for purpose any more.

“There was quite a bit of enthusiasm from some of the community to keep the older part but I think it would be quite difficult to convert it to something else.”

The Laurencekirk Development Trust has now handed its business case to transfer the academy, the old school hall and its playing fields to the group through a community asset transfer.

The group was given extra time by the council’s policy and resources committee to come up with proposals, before they was submitted on March 16.

Mr Robson said there had been a good response to the local consultation events held throughout the town.

He said: “We managed to get really good feedback. We had engagement with local primary schools and Mearns Academy and got ideas from the younger generation as well.

“We had a fair idea of what people felt was needed but it has moved on a bit as well.

“It is the location that is critical in our case because all the other points of opportunity are either taken or don’t exist. It is just the way Laurencekirk is placed. You only have so much space.

“Laurencekirk has already doubled in size and it is going to do so again. The council has been very supportive between various departments, we have had a lot of input from them.”

He added: “Swimming facilities for the Howe of the Mearns area are not on the horizon at all at the moment. It becomes more realistic to expect something like that as time goes on.

“The pool is one idea that residents have highlighted as a thing that is needed now, and kids in this area are getting nothing in the way of swimming. “

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