Commercial property: School faces possibility of homework

Finding new uses for listed public buildings and retaining the architecture while adapting the space for the 21st century can throw up some interesting ideas.

The extended B-listed Victorian building which is currently home to Balnacraig School in Barnhill, Perth, came on to the sales market earlier this month. Formerly a mansion house, the property has served decades as an educational establishment, with a size and location which makes it an attractive proposition for developers keen to change its use once more.

The impressive building sits in a very desirable residential area of Perth, and it is within walking distance of the city centre.

Sign up to our History and Heritage newsletter

Sign up to our History and Heritage newsletter

Built in 1896 as a residential home, the mansion house became a school in 1948 and was extended. The educational foundation that started the institution had its roots in the industrial schools movement, and it was established as a charity to educate and house homeless girls.

Over time, its original purpose evolved and Balnacraig became a residential facility for children who are not suited to mainstream education.

The main building extends to more than 19,000sq ft over two storeys, including a modern extension.

However, it is the scale of the building that has been the catalyst for the sale. Alison Morley, chief executive of Balnacraig School, explains: “In recent years, care has been increasingly provided in smaller therapeutic environments away from the school. This decentralised approach resembles a traditional family home.

“While we have been privileged to operate in such an enviable location, young people will now be provided alternative accommodation, in smaller homes separate to learning, suiting young people’s needs more closely.

Balnacraig is being marketed by Savills, and Richard Cottingham, the agent dealing with the sale, says: “It is a rare opportunity to acquire a substantial detached property in a desirable area of Perth which would lend itself to a lot of different purposes.

“Set in 1.6 acres of attractive and mature gardens, with exceptional views over Perth, it is appealing to a diverse range of buyers.”

Interest may come, he believes, from similar institutional users or developers interested in refurbishing the properties for housing, and leisure use.

Cottingham says: “The original Victorian house has a wealth of original features and a rich history. Given the size, location and appearance of the property, it is likely to have wide appeal to a range of occupiers and developers.

“So far, a lot of interest has come from those looking at converting the main property into residential apartments, plus there is a four-bedroomed house at the back. Given the size, you are probably looking at fitting 15 different flats into the main house.”

The property originally cost the trustees just £5,000 in the 1940s, and while no price has been put on the current listing, it is understood that the sale will allow the school to buy several smaller properties.