Strontian: The community that built its own school

Image caption,
The new school in Strontian

A small Highland community decided to build its own school after parents rejected the local council's solution to sorting out their ageing primary.

Strontian Primary School in the Ardnamurchan Peninsula has roll of about 30 pupils.

It was built in the mid-1970s and the building has seen better days.

Highland Council had proposed making improvements to the old school, before the community took it upon themselves to finance their own school building.

Now completed and due to open its doors in the coming weeks, the overall cost of more than £900,000 for the new school has been met through a community shares issue and grants.

And this Strontian Community School Building Ltd-led innovative project does not end there.

Image caption,
The village's current school building has seen better days
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The new building is being readied for the arrival of staff and pupils

Should it no longer be needed as a school in the future, the building has been designed in such a way it can be converted into affordable homes in the future.

Head teacher Pamela Hill said the 1970s primary school building was now "a bit dated and sad".

She said: "There is not much space for us at the moment.

"We really need a school that is a bit more up-to-date with technology suited for children for the 21st Century, and somewhere where there is a bit more space for them as well."

Image caption,
Head teacher Pamela Hill is looking forward to having more space in the new school

Highland Council agrees the current school is not fit for purpose, but its proposals to make improvements to the building or add temporary classrooms did not find favour with parents.

One of those parents, Jamie McIntyre, said: "They [Highland Council] did a statutory consultation on three possible options.

"Unfortunately, their preferred option was not supported by the parents, so we had a wee bit of a stalemate."

Strontian? You've never been, but it sounds familiar?

The village is on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula in the west Highlands, and is a small community with a population of about 400 people.

Lead was mined near Strontian in the 1700s and the metal was used to make ammunition for Britain's war against France. The mines provided employment for hundreds of workers.

Members of its congregation would row out to it. Contemporary accounts say it had seating for 750 people.

But for many people, Strontian might sound familiar because of strontium, an element of the periodic table.

Strontium is found in strontianite, a mineral which occurs near the Highland village.

Scientist Sir Humphry Davy isolated the metal in 1808.

Science fiction comic fans may also know of Strontium Dogs, a long-running comic series about mutant bounty hunters that was a feature of the Starlord comics and later 2000 AD.

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Jamie McIntyre said the new building has been leased to Highland Council

The idea for a community-built school emerged from local people's work with the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust, which had some land available.

Mr McIntyre said: "Quite casually, we said 'how much to build a new school here?'

"To their credit they went off and costed the plan and put it to the council and proposed the model we have here, which is that we finance, design and build the school and we lease it to the council for use as long they need it for a school."

That length of time could be for only as long as 10 years.

That is because Strontian's nursery and primary pupils could eventually be accommodated in the village's secondary school, something not possible at the moment because of the terms of the PPP contract under which the high school was built.

Image source, S&K Macdonald Homes Ltd
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The new school has been designed so it can be converted into affordable housing
Image caption,
For the next 10 years at least the building will serve as a school

If a move to the secondary does ever happen, the new primary has been designed in such a way it can be converted in affordable housing.

Interconnecting rooms would be removed to create up to four homes.

Local Highland councillor Andrew Baxter said the work of Strontian's "very talented community" could inspire other areas.

He said: "I think other communities in the Highlands and across the whole of Scotland could be looking at this and saying: 'Yes, we could do this too'."

Image caption,
The scenic school grounds

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