Students in Peebles might not have to wait 13 years for a new high school after all due to the fire that ravaged their current one last month.
The Tweed Valley town was last in line to have its high school rebuilt after plans to open a £128m replacement for the current Peebles High in 2032 were agreed last year, but it could now be about to jump the queue.
Scottish Borders Council bosses are planning to dip into their emergency budget for £100,000 to pay for an appraisal of the options available to them following November 28’s blaze, and councillors will be asked to approve that move at a full meeting of the authority this Thursday, December 19.
Parts of the Springwood Road school – including its gym, changing facilities, art department and additional needs support areas – were destroyed by the fire and will need to be demolished.
Council bosses are now trying to work out their best way forward for the site and will have to decide, after consulting building experts, whether it would be most cost-effective to demolish the current school and start from scratch or just reconstruct those facilities worst hit by the blaze.
The Scottish Government has also been consulted about rebuilding the school, whether partially or in its entirety, and the council has confirmed it is proceeding with a major insurance claim with Swiss-based insurer Zurich Municipal to fund such a move.
A report to councillors, written by projects manager Steven Renwick, reads: “The current understanding is that 26 classrooms have been significantly affected by either smoke or fire damage.
“In the days following the fire, immediate and executive action has, and will continue to be taken, to recommission elements of the building so that education services can be resumed as swiftly as possible.
“The extensive and irreparable damage means that a series of medium and longer-term actions will be required to be taken to replace the accommodation lost to the fire.
“There are a number of options which could be considered, ranging from full new-build replacement to a simpler reinstatement of the facilities which have been most directly affected or lost, as well as other multiple alternative scenarios which can all be tested as part of any options appraisal process.”
That process now looks set to include a rethink of the order the four high schools in the Borders deemed to be in need of upgrading will be rebuilt in.
It had been agreed that Galashiels, Hawick, Selkirk and Peebles high schools should be rebuilt in that order, with the last not due to open until 2032.
However, the report indicates that that could be about to change, saying: “While notional timescales were identified for the replacement programme in November 2018, these are now subject to review within the capital programme as a consequence of the recent changes to the funding model for schools announced by the Scottish Government in September 2019 as part of their new learning estate strategy.
“Timescales for the delivery of priorities identified within the wider learning estate strategy may be affected by the need to prioritise investment in the Peebles building.
“Scottish ministers have verbally indicated they are prepared to support the council to minimise any such impact.”
Prior to last month’s fire, a new Galashiels Academy was due to open in 2023 at a cost of £62m, with a replacement Hawick High following by the year after and a new secondary school in Selkirk welcoming pupils in 2029.