The cost of building an Elgin primary school has risen by £1.3 million, but officials hold out hope it will be ready to welcome pupils in August 2020.
Linkwood Primary School was originally conceived as a £11.5 million school – part of a massive expansion of the south of the town that could eventually lead to 2,500 homes being built over the next 20 years.
However, the project has undergone a challenging array of problems and delays ever since it was announced, sending costs spiralling.
Moray Council originally approved capital funding of £11.5 million for the construction of the new school but a report published by officers has confirmed that has now been increased to £12.8 million.
One of the reasons given for the substantial rise in price is a series of wrangles over ownership of the site.
Developer Springfield Properties is responsible for preparing the site for the school before the council’s own contractors can begin construction.
Opposition leaders on the cash-strapped council have questioned where the authority will find the money needed and questioned whether it can be delivered within the new time-frame.
The new school is vitally important if the town is to accommodate its growing population, with existing schools under pressure.
Presented with the report, Tim Eagle, conservative group leader, criticised the entire process so far.
He said: “There is a £1.3 million overspend here in the midst of one of the deepest financial crises the council has ever had.
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“I know it says we can fund this through under-spending and savings but this is money we could have used for other purposes.
“This whole process needs to be looked at, as there have been fundamental issues with this whole process and I think the public are frustrated with that.
“We can’t not do this – we have to have this school in place – but there have been massive failures.”
Elgin City South councillor John Divers said he was concerned that despite construction work being scheduled to begin in February, no papers had been signed between the landowner and developers.
He said: “It does concern me greatly that we are talking about getting onsite in a month’s time yet my understanding is that the paperwork between the developer and the landowner has still not been signed.
“I know the landowner has been out of the country but this has been part of the hold-up time and time again.
“What assurances can we have until that is actually done?”
Linkwood Primary School was meant to open its doors this summer but the opening date has been pushed back to August 2020.
Pupils registered to the school are currently being housed in temporary accommodation at East End Primary School – but warnings have been issued that if the school is not ready for the start of the 2020 academic year then it will trigger extra costs to create more space.
The site will accommodate 450 pupils in the main school with a dedicated Additional Support Needs base for 12 pupils and a 40 place nursery.
A report about the project put to the full council yesterday warned that “Linkwood Primary School is required to be completed for August 2020 in order to meet the projected growth in the school roll.
“Existing schools in the area are either at or close to capacity and would be unable to accommodate the increase.”
The projected updated timescale for the school will have construction commencing on February 11 2019 and the school handover falling on June 19 2020.
Graham Jarvis, Corporate Director of Education and Social Care at Moray Council, insisted the authority got the best deal possible in the timescale involved.
He said: “This project has been reported on regularly, with details about its process, the challenges faced and the hurdles it has overcome since 2016.
“The backstop date is that we need to have kids in the school by August 2020 and in order to do that we need to get the construction site set up in January 2019.
“The negotiations over price and other issues like planning have been long and torturous but eventually we got to a price that we couldn’t better.
“We believe the transfer of land ownership was signed yesterday.
“I share Mr Divers concern about how long it has taken us as we have been talking about that for months as well.”
A Springfield Properties spokesman said: “Springfield Properties has co-operated with Moray Council to provide land for the Linkwood School.
“Springfield is not involved in the construction of the school. We look forward to seeing the school progress and to the opening of this new educational facility for Elgin.”