A row has erupted over the desperately-needed Culloden Academy expansion after it emerged more money and time is needed.
Councillors are planning a motion to demand full funding and immediate action on the project. They will make their move next month.
Parents, councillors and students waited years for details on the planned expansion. They expected a cost of £7.718 million and a completion date of 2023.
But in the past week, stakeholders say they were told that only the first phase is on target for 2023 and a full expansion could require as much as £5million more in funding.
The council said in a statement that there is no money available for future phases, but left the door open for a re-evaluation of the capital plan in the autumn of 2021.
A formal call to action
In November 2020, SNP Councillor Ken Gowans was one of the local councillors to revive the issue of the 2018 expansion agreement.
He said that he had received assurances along the way that everything was on schedule, until last week when it was revealed in a meeting that only Phase 1 was on the books.
The full Culloden Academy expansion will be late: if it arrives at all.
It’s simply not an environment that’s conducive to success.”
Ken Gowans, Councillor for Inverness South
Mr. Gowans called the discovery a ‘bombshell’ and said that the overcrowding at the school and the ongoing delays will require the attention of the full council.
“I feel extremely concerned for the pupils and the staff of the school who are working under extreme pressure and certainly not getting the best learning experience they possibly can, even with the best efforts of all of the staff. It’s simply not an environment that’s conducive to success.”
Mr. Gowans said that he and fellow SNP Councillor Glynis Sinclair will bring a motion on June 24 to request full funding and immediate action on the project.
“Basically, there is no other possibility,” he said.
‘No additional funds for Culloden Academy’
On 2 March, 2018, the council published its five-year capital programme. It included £7.5 million for expansion and renovation of Culloden Academy, to be spent during that time and completed by 2022/2023.
The description of the project in the 2018 document does not mention a phased approach.
It was agreed that Culloden Academy would get an extension.”
Glynis Sinclair, Councillor
And, according to Mrs Sinclair, she expected the £7.5 million budget would cover the entire expansion.
“And that’s the impression that stakeholder groups have been told as well. It was agreed that Culloden Academy would get an extension.
“It was agreed that the school was at capacity, the school was under pressure, staff was under pressure, pupils did not have a conducive learning environment.”
But last week, Mrs Sinclair asked council officers if there was enough money for the expansion.
“I was actually quite shocked to discover that–with the money that was available–there would only be enough funding available to build half a science block. It just wasn’t acceptable.”
She went on to say that she was told the full expansion would take another £5 million.
A council spokesperson said Wednesday that the council increased the budget to £7.718 million in January, and approved separate additional funding to pay for twelve temporary classrooms.
There are no additional funds for Culloden Academy available at this time.”
A similar report was presented at January’s council meeting, which first mentioned a phased approach and a completion date of 2023/2024.
The council said that the first phase at Culloden Academy is to address the current capacity pressures, but not pressure in the years ahead.
“Future capacity issues would need to be addressed by adding additional phases of building works,” the spokesperson said.
When asked whether the project was underfunded or behind schedule, a council spokesperson said: “The council approved a re-profiled capital programme in January 2021 that includes a budget of £7.718 million for the first phase of this project.
“This first phase remains on target for 2023. As with every project, the council has the opportunity to review the budget for the works, and members will be reviewing the capital programme in Autumn 2021. However there are no additional funds for Culloden Academy available at this time.”
School replacement on hold
Scottish Liberal Democratic Councillor Trish Robertson confirmed that the intention in 2018 was to replace the school.
But she added that even though the council does have the amount that was promised three years ago, it won’t cover the costs.
“The money that’s available wasn’t really enough to start with. Discussions will have to be had about if we can find more to do what’s necessary right now. We’ll need about another £5million plus to do what we really need to do.
“They’re not talking much about overall school replacement at the moment.”
Overcrowding an ongoing concern
The urgency stems from the building’s current issues with capacity: issues that are only projected to get worse in the coming decade.
According to statistics made available by the Highland Council, the calculated enrolment capacity at Culloden is 964 pupils. Data from February puts the current roll at 1,124—approximately 17% percent over capacity.
The same data shows that enrolment could increase by an average of 35 pupils per year for the next 15 school years. In January, Culloden became one of two Inverness schools that had its student numbers capped by the council for the upcoming school year.
If there were no expansion at all, the data suggests that the school will be one-third above capacity by 2025 and three-quarters above capacity by 2035.