Scottish Highlands school built and owned by community opens to pupils

Pupils and staff on the first day at New Strontian School on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Highland. Picture: SWNS
Pupils and staff on the first day at New Strontian School on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Highland. Picture: SWNS
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A school built and owned by a community in the Scottish Highlands has welcomed pupils for their first day.

Strontian Primary School opened the doors to its £900,000 building on October 30, which was paid for by community shares, grants and a commercial bank loan.

P1 pupil Fionn Togher cuts the ribbon at New Strontian School. Picture:SWNS

P1 pupil Fionn Togher cuts the ribbon at New Strontian School. Picture:SWNS

The project was led by the community in the Ardnamurchan Peninsula and yesterday (Tue) welcomed the schools 30 pupils for the first time.

The Highland Council proposed making improvements to the original 1970s building and had suggested using temporary classrooms.

But the idea was rejected by parents and staff who believed the community deserved a more modern environment for children to learn in.

Working with development agent, the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust, land was bought from a private seller.

Head teacher Pamela Hill leads the children away from their old school for the last time. Picture: SWNS

Head teacher Pamela Hill leads the children away from their old school for the last time. Picture: SWNS

The community company, Strontian Community School Building Ltd, will lease the building back to Highland Council for ten years to help pay off the debt.

And it can be converted into four homes if the classrooms are no longer needed in the future.

The project is believed to be the first of its kind in Scotland.

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New Strontian School on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Highland built by the community. Picture: TSPL

New Strontian School on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Highland built by the community. Picture: TSPL

The school’s youngest pupil cut the ribbon on the wooden buildings, and a procession led by headteacher Pamela Hill went from the old school building to the new one.

Chairman of Strontian Community School Building Ltd, Jamie McIntyre, 51, said: “It’s been going on for years and years.

“Discussions with the council started in 2014 when there was a discussion about what to do with the school.

“There was a stalemate as parents did not agree with the council, and we came back with a new proposal.

Head teacher Pamela Hill leads the children away from their old school for the last time as they move to the community built New Strontian School on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Highland. Picture: SWNS

Head teacher Pamela Hill leads the children away from their old school for the last time as they move to the community built New Strontian School on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Highland. Picture: SWNS

“We were not unhappy with the council in terms of providing education, we have no role in appointing teaching staff, but we built the school and are leasing it to the council.”

He compared the idea to a private finance initiative (PFI) but without any profit involved.

Mr McIntyre, who’s son Seumas, aged ten, is in P6 at the school, added: “Our main goal was the best school we could get for our children.

“I’ve had four children who’ve all been through the school, and most people involved have had children educated there.

“When discussions first began, the council predicted that demographics meant the school role would decline, but we could not accept that.

“We had to do something as a community to attract new families.

“The school is at the heart of the community, that’s why we did what we did.”

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The new building has underfloor heating, a larger playground and WiFi, compared to its “dated” counterpart.

Most of the money used to build it is borrowed and must be repaid, but the contractors live locally.

A piper greeted the procession which walked to the new school building and older pupils from the nearby secondary school gathered to watch, along with parents.

Mr McIntyre said: “The whole of the high school, pupils and staff, came out to greet us.

“It was really quite lovely - it was quite emotional.”