Highland Council’s budget leader last night pledged to “catapult” a replacement for a crumbling specialist school into its spending plans if funding is not forthcoming from the Scottish Government.
The commitment for a new St Clement’s school in Dingwall was made by councillor Alister Mackinnon ahead of a special meeting tomorrow to discuss the administration’s proposed five-year capital programme.
Parents and politicians have called for the authority to replace the ailing primary school, which caters for pupils with specialist needs and has been described as “something out of Oliver Twist”.
The St Clement’s school has a failing heating system which has resulted in pupils having to wear hats, scarves and coats in classrooms to keep warm.
The administration has controversially not included the school into its proposed capital programme unveiled late on Friday, claiming it hopes to be successful in winning £50million funding from the Scottish Government’s next tranche of the Schools for the Future Fund.
Councillor Mackinnon said: “At recent meetings of the administration and budget team there was broad agreement that St Clement’s was more deserving than any other school in the Highlands.”
He said they were committed to the school and, if government funding was not forthcoming in the council’s bid for extra cash, then the authority would “catapult” the project into its capital plans, which would need the programme to be re-evaluated.
Local MSP Kate Forbes, who yesterday visited the school to meet parents, welcomed the commitment, but added: “St Clement’s has got to be an absolute priority and the fastest way to do that is for Highland Council to put it in the capital spending programme when it meets on Wednesday.”
“The St Clement’s school building dates back to the Victoria era, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to Highland Council that it’s past its sell-by date and in need of replacement.
“I was aghast to hear from parents that the heating system regularly breaks down, and that children are having to wear hats and coats in class to keep warm. That’s like something out of Oliver Twist.
“When you see the excellent facilities at the likes of Drummond School in Inverness, which was purpose-built to accommodate the wide spectrum of children with additional support needs, you can’t help but feeling that St Clement’s is getting a raw deal.
“Cold, dark, small, narrow and draughty rooms and corridors are simply not conducive to a healthy learning environment, and this must be rectified for these long suffering Highland children.
“I take my hat off to the staff who are doing their level best in the circumstances, but the time has come for Highland Council to take decisive action for the good of pupils, parents and teachers alike and include it in its capital programme now.”