Highland Council chiefs have made a groveling apology for a catalogue of blunders during the construction of a £9.3million school.
The project to merge Conon Bridge and Maryburgh primaries resulted in an £862,000 overspend.
And the opening of the new Ben Wyvis school – built by Barr Construction – was delayed.
A raft of snagging issues including a boiler breakdown, doors falling off and flooding.
At yesterday’s meeting of the local authority’s audit and scrutiny committee in Inverness even council chief executive Steve Barron had to say sorry for the debacle.
But councillors questioned whether lessons had been learned from what several referred to as a “disaster” in project management.
A review of officer training has now been promised, along with an urgent discussion between local councillors and senior staff.
But there was high praise from councillors for staff at Ben Wyvis Primary – which belatedly opened to pupils in October 2012.
During a two-hour debate, Dingwall and Seaforth councillor Alister Mackinnon said: “There was a reluctance by council officials to keep members informed. We kept asking, we kept raising concerns and it fell on deaf ears. Why it went so horribly wrong, words fail me.
“There’s no accountability in the council and we, in our communities, are sick of this. If this was the private sector there would have been disciplinary action.
“At best, this project has been handled in an unprofessional manner by various departments with a total disregard for council procedures.”
Ward colleague Graham MacKenzie, a former rector of Dingwall Academy, said: “This school has never had a formal opening. Why? I would suggest because we were so embarrassed about the whole failure of this project that we wanted it to go away.”
He also asked when the community would get an apology.
Councillor Angela MacLean told colleagues she was “saddened” by the episode and that the mismanagement had left her “embarrassed as a councillor”.
She described the merger process as “an open wound in the community”, adding that she doubted lessons has been learned.
Council leader Margaret Davidson agreed with colleagues who felt the lack of a formal ceremony to celebrate the opening of the school missed an opportunity to bring the two communities closer.
First to apologise yesterday was Highland planning director Stuart Black.
He said: “I’m prepared to make an apology. When the council makes mistakes we need to apologise.
“We’ve set up a capital programme board in the last year, which I chair, which looks at all capital programme across the council and we’re also regularly reviewing all projects above £4million to make sure that those projects are being properly managed.”
He was followed by depute chief executive Michelle Morris, who was in the chamber for the debate.
She said: “We don’t always get it right. We’re trying to put this right. We take this seriously. It’s a matter of regret we’re here talking about this today.
“We get it right very often and there are people in the organisation with the skills and expertise to carry on doing that. We do need to make sure we are not faced with scenarios like this again.”
She promised to report back to the committee next month to update members on what work is being done to address the issues raised.
Meanwhile, Barclay Chalmers, managing director of McLaughlin and Harvey – previously Barr Construction – said: “This was a challenging project in many respects for all involved. We maintained a professional relationship with the council’s housing service.”