Highland residents hope to build own school after council refusal

RESIDENTS of a remote Highland village are hoping to build their own school after council officials refused them funding for one.

Residents of a remote Highland village are hoping to build their own school. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL

People in remote Strontian, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, decided to take action as Highland Council does not have the resources to replace the village’s dilapidated primary school.

The council has considered various options, including renovation of the existing building and setting up portable cabins at the nearby high school.

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But members of the community have put their foot down, insisting makeshift classrooms are not an option.

The council has now allowed them to investigate the costs and practicalities of raising money for a new school.

Claire Campbell, of the Strontian Community School Building Group (SCSBG), said: “It’s no longer fit for purpose with inadequate space and a building in poor condition, requiring long overdue improvement and enlargement work throughout.”

The group hopes to open a community owned primary school after procuring a site beside Ardnamurchan High School in Strontian.

The cost of the basic school build - without kitting it out - has been estimated at £690,000.

Local councillor Andrew Baxter praised the community, adding: “It’s fantastic that a community feels this strongly about an issue that it’s prepared to take the lead on it and not rely on the council in providing what they consider would have been second best.

“The existing primary school is outdated and cramped. The kids are served lunch on the neighbouring village hall stage, which is a minuscule space, and they have to be served their food because there’s not enough room for them to move around on the stage.”

SCSBG is working with the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust, which has set a target of £2,000 to £3,000 for a start-up fund to cover initial legal fees, land valuations and administration costs before applying for funding.

They hope to raise the cash from grants, share options and commercial loans, with the trust hoping the Scottish Land Fund may help with the land purchase cost.

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Sunart Community Council has pledged £1,000 towards the start-up cost.

Chairwoman Denise Anderson said: “The project is wonderful and we’re behind them all the way.

“The existing school is not fit for purpose. It’s not big enough, in particular the playground.”

Strontian Primary head teacher Pamela Hill said: “The proposed new school project is an exciting prospect not only for pupils, parents and staff but the wider community.

“The support has been fantastic and, as a school, we’re looking forward to seeing the proposals come to life.”

A total of 34 pupils attend the school, with a further four in the nursery.

Jamie McIntyre, member of the SCSBG, and a parent, said: “If, at the conclusion of the lease-period Highland Council decides to relocate the school, the building, being community owned, will be available for conversion into badly needed affordable housing or other similar use.”

Highland Council had estimated a bill of more than £1 million to move the 1970s-built primary school.