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Scotland’s first community-owned school building, at Strontian, will be formally opened next week by Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney MSP.
The school has been open to pupils for nearly a year, but Mr Swinney will do the ‘honours’ to formally declare open Strontian Primary School, which was designed, financed and built by the local community.
The unique project came about after the existing primary school was assessed by Highland Council as inadequate for both educational suitability and building condition in 2012.
The statutory consultation which followed however resulted in the council’s preferred solution to address the
situation being rejected by the community.
A resolution was found when parents, working with the Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT), proposed that they should build a new school and lease it to the council, in a community-based equivalent to the better known, and more controversial, Private Finance Initiative.
Highland Council agreed to support this approach, as did, importantly, the wider community, and a community benefit society – Strontian Community School Building Ltd – was established to take forward the project.
After breaking ground in October 2017, construction continued apace through to completion the following summer, and pupils moved into the new building almost exactly one year later, in October of last year.
The building is situated adjacent to Ardnamurchan High School allowing some facilities such as the kitchen to be shared with the primary school.
Finance for the £930,000 project came from a commercial loan from Triodos Bank, a payment for tenant’s works from Highland Council, a community share offer which raised over £155,000, and £80,000 in grants from the Scottish Land Fund and Foundation Scotland.
The local community raised £34,000 from funds generated by their community-owned hydro scheme, and local donations.
An innovative feature of the building is that it has been designed to allow conversion to affordable housing – another community priority – at a future date.
This came about as Highland Council did not wish to commit to a long-term lease of the building and requested a break point at 10 years.
Ahead of next week’s opening, Mr Swinney commented: ‘It gives me great pleasure to open the first school in Scotland to be developed through a community ownership model.
‘The innovative work of parents and the wider Strontian community, alongside construction companies and
Highland Council, has given local young people a fit-for-purpose school they can be proud of for years to come.’
Jamie McIntyre, chair of Strontian Community School Building Ltd, added: ‘We are delighted with our new school and would like to thank all those who made it possible.
‘The end result exceeds our expectations and is a real asset for our community which will help retain and attract
‘It has been a challenging undertaking for our community not least as it was a ‘first’ – hopefully our experience will make it easier for other communities to progress similar projects of their own.’