Plans for a new Moray secondary school could be drastically downsized in a desperate effort to combat a £700,000 overspend.
The replacement Lossiemouth High School could now be built without the swimming pool or community centre in order to meet its £35.3million budget.
Moray Council education bosses yesterday suggested building a “smaller school” to reduce costs – despite the town’s population being expected to surge as RAF Lossiemouth expands.
Councillors’ fears over Moray’s troubled school estate were compounded when they learned that work on a new £11.5million primary in Elgin could be delayed following the discovery of a gas main on the site.
The local authority now faces an uphill struggle to get Linkwood Primary School opened on schedule.
The sustainable education committee was briefed on the changes during its first meeting yesterday.
Head of lifelong learning, culture and sport, Graham Jarvis, blamed the “sandy” ground conditions at Lossiemouth for the spiralling construction costs.
The total funding approved for the building is £35.3million, with the government paying £21.6million and Moray Council £13.7million.
But the added construction costs are tipped to send the overall price to £36million.
Mr Jarvis said: “We could be looking at building a smaller school, or one without the community facilities.
“Other options would be using a different design, with inferior materials, but that isn’t something we would want.
“We want a quality school that is fit for the 21st century and will last for the next 40 years, rather than something cheap and nasty.
“To achieve the funding the Scottish Government has put into this project we need to have the school built by March, 2020, so our timescale is very tight.”
The full council will meet next Wednesday to decide how to proceed with the construction of the new school.
Plans to build a £11.5million primary in the south of Elgin have also been thrown into disarray.
The complex is being created to cater for the expanding part of the town, where developer Springfield Properties plans to build 2,500 homes.
Mr Jarvis explained that the targeted opening date of August, 2019, has been jeopardised after planners had to “dramatically redesign” the venue.
He added: “The plans were compromised by a gas main running through the south of the site, which means we can’t have a car park or playing field there.
“Now, there will have to be a 550ft exclusion zone around the pipe which can’t be built on.”
Chairwoman of the council’s children and young people’s services committee, Anne Skene, described the update as “surprising”.
She said: “I’d have thought the health and safety concerns around this would have been taken into consideration at the outset.”
Mr Jarvis said that when the “rural gas pipe” was laid it was not suitably protected as it was never anticipated that building would take place over it.
He added: “That was a surprise to Springfield Properties, who are now having to look at the lines there again.
“This was a disappointment to the developers as well.”
Linkwood Primary School will be next to the planned Moray Sports Centre, and the council hopes pupils will be able to use its playing fields during the day.
Children zoned there are being taught in freshly created classroom space at East End Primary School while it is under construction.
A Springfield spokeswoman said it would not be appropriate for the firm to comment on the meeting as it had no representatives present.
During the same meeting, councillors learned that the new Elgin High School was on target to open in October, “on time and on budget”.
There was outcry in Lossiemouth last year when council officers said it would be “financially irresponsible” to include a pool in plans for the new secondary school.
It was only the prospect of military intervention which persuaded the authority to include the facility in its design.
The pool – which is used by locals and schoolchildren – is one of the most popular in Moray.
But councillors heard that including a similar facility at the new site would increase costs from £28.5million to £31million.
Amid uncertainty over how much it might have to pay for the scheme, the council feared having to stump up the additional £3-4million required.
Last May, Moray MSP Richard Lochhead tackled the council on the matter after being inundated with calls from dismayed Lossiemouth residents.
Councillors were eventually persuaded to include one in the plans after Heldon and Laich member, John Cowe, pledged to appeal to RAF Lossiemouth for help funding it.
He said MoD staff had agreed to investigate funding the pool in partnership with the council, providing certain conditions are met.
Mr Cowe added the increasing number of personnel at the base would be eager to use the modern venue for dinghy training exercises and rehabilitation sessions.