South Scotland

Financial pressures force Dumfries schools overhaul rethink

Dumfries Academy Image copyright Rose and Trev Clough
Image caption Dumfries Academy is also included in the current second phase plans

The second phase of a south of Scotland schools overhaul is set to be revised in the face of financial pressures.

Dumfries and Galloway Council said to go ahead with its original plans would mean it had to find annual savings of about £10m for 25 years.

The £80m scheme was meant to see two new campuses and a primary school built in Dumfries.

The council said it was committed to the completion of the project but the original brief may need to be changed.

The first phase of the Dumfries Learning Town project - to overhaul St Joseph's College and build the new North West Community Campus and The Bridge learning hub - has been completed.

Phase two was supposed to see two new campuses built - one including Dumfries High School and Noblehill Primary with the other seeing Dumfries Academy redeveloped and Loreburn Primary relocated to the site.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Dumfries High School is one of the sites involved in the second phase

A new Laurieknowe nursery and primary was also planned at a total cost estimated at £80m.

However, a report said current Scottish government models meant only Dumfries High School would be eligible for funding.

It said that levels of financial support for the second phase would therefore be "significantly lower" than anticipated.

Jeff Leaver, who chairs the education and learning committee, said continuing budgetary constraints, rising construction costs and changes to funding meant pursuing the original brief would mean the council needed to save millions every year for 25 years.

However, he said the administration remained committed to completing the project.

"The committee will be asked to instruct officers to explore ways to rebuild Dumfries High School and refurbish Dumfries Academy and other burgh primary schools, with a potential investment of tens of millions of pounds over the next five years," he added.

'Utter betrayal'

South of Scotland MSP Colin Smyth said any failure to complete the elements of phase two at the same time would be an "utter betrayal of pupils, teachers and parents".

He claimed there was a "growing feeling" that the aim was to build a new Dumfries High but not refurbish the Academy at the same time which he warned was "not acceptable".

The Scottish government said the council had received £25m towards the construction of Dalbeattie High, St Joseph's College and North West Community Campus through its existing Schools for the Future programme.

"Following the announcement of a further £1bn programme last November, we have engaged with COSLA and other key stakeholders and are in the process of agreeing a funding model for future school improvements to build on the progress already made," a spokesperson added.

"A new learning estate strategy will be published in September."

Analysis: By Giancarlo Rinaldi, BBC Scotland news website south of Scotland reporter

Image copyright Dumfries and Galloway Council
Image caption The North West Community Campus was part of the first phase of work

The news that the second phase of Dumfries Learning Town is unlikely to proceed as originally hoped is not a major surprise.

A changing financial climate has left the council facing a very different set of economic circumstances to when it embarked on its ambitious plans.

Phase one of the overhaul has delivered brand new or completely upgraded facilities for hundreds of pupils.

However, parents at schools in the second phase will now have to wait and see how and when their children will enjoy similar benefits.

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