Plans for a £54 million investment in five Highland schools set to answer “long-awaited hopes and dreams” of communities are to be agreed upon by council members next week.

The capital funding, which will address issues including ageing school buildings, capacity pressures and depopulation, has been identified for Culloden Academy, Beauly, Dunvegan and Park Primary Schools and St Clement’s School.

Outline estimates have been prepared and more in-depth work will be undertaken over the summer following the Highland Council meeting on Thursday 24 June. The detailed designs and costings for phase one development will then be brought back to councillors in September for approval.

Plans to allocate additional spending for the council’s wider “digital transformation” and “ICT refresh” in the second phase of funding have also been announced.

To ease roll pressure at Culloden Academy, one of Inverness’ most crowded schools, an estimated additional cost of £8m to £9m is required to create extra student capacity by approximately 2028/2029, on top of funding agreed as part of the current capital programme.

Approved phase one development will partially address significant “suitability and condition issues” at Beauly and Dunvegan primary schools. According to a June 2019 report, whole campus redevelopment is required.

Beauly Primary, five miles west of Inverness, is one of the region’s oldest schools and has some “seriously substandard” buildings and needs a new nursery building.

To fund the build of Dunvegan Primary School, located on the Isle of Skye, an estimated additional cost of around £12.5m to 15m will be needed, though this could be reduced by as much as £2.5m if Scottish Government Gaelic-funding can be secured for the school. The primary school is part of a master plan which includes housing and a sports field which should further support the project.

Meanwhile, a replacement school for Park Primary in Invergorden and a long-term strategic approach to education provision for all early years and primary in the town is estimated to cost in the region of £14m to £17m.

Finally, the estimated cost for a new St Clement’s school building is expected to be in excess of £13m. Facilities at the primary school in Dingwall currently do “not adequately support the delivery of education”, and the institution is rated “C – (poor)” for both condition and suitability. 

Chair of the Education Committee, councillor John Finlayson said: “Good facilities and a safe learning environment is fundamental for the education of all our young people across the Highlands and a key priority for this administration.

“This funding is excellent news for parents and pupils and everyone in these five communities. Approval of such significant investment will be the culmination of long-awaited hopes and dreams of very many people in these towns and villages and by progressing these priorities, we enable other school projects to move forward and become a reality.

“We will be communicating with parents to let them know of the next steps in the detailed planning process.”

Leader of the council, councillor Margaret Davidson said: “The priority education projects are among a wide range of capital investments we are proposing.

“We are also planning additional spending on our road infrastructure and estate, waste strategy, ICT refresh, digital transformation and fleet. Detailed proposals will be brought back to Council in October as part of the wider work looking at the capital plan.

“In addition to the phenomenal investment we announced in March for roads, visitor management, an economic prosperity fund, and money for wards for local issues and priorities, we are proposing a further £10m for investment in our communities.

“Our investment plans take into account the need for medium term financial sustainability and keeping sufficient non ear-marked Reserves to mitigate against future risks and uncertainty, whilst investing in Recovery.”

Depute leader, councillor Alasdair Christie added: “Our health and prosperity plan is part of a targeted response to the impacts of the pandemic on individuals, families, communities and businesses. The report coming to council evidences a number of benefits already streaming from the first phase of funding.

“Tangible improvements can already be seen in the busy roads repairs programme underway, parking, waste and tourism assets and the recruitment of new Rangers. Good progress is also being made on the delivery of the economic prosperity fund programme.

“Phase two of the health and prosperity plan would see a further £10m invested in roads and infrastructure, environment and climate change, communities, amenities and in our people and assets.”

Chair of resources committee, councillor Jimmy Gray added: “Unemployment is a huge risk to our recovery and much of what we are doing is designed to stimulate employment opportunities, sustainability and growth across the Highlands. Some 210 grants have been approved and 111 recruits are now in post as a result of the Highland Employment Recruitment Offer (HERO) work – the grant scheme offering financial support to businesses who are taking on additional staff. The development and acceleration of the Council’s Modern Apprenticeship programme is also underway and other projects, including the schools mentoring programme are making good progress.

“The next phase of proposed funding includes investment in our workforce and improvements to our ICT, which has been crucial to our ability to respond with agility to the pandemic.”

As part of the approved March 2018 capital programme, a number of unfunded priority education projects were identified. Since that time a number of those projects have now been incorporated into the reprofiled January 2021 capital programme including:

Tain 3-18 Campus, included in the ‘learning estate investment programme’ (LEIP) phase one; Broadford Primary School, included in LEIP phase two; a replacement for Nairn Academy, included in LEIP phase two; Beauly and Dunvegan Primary Schools with funding approved in 2019 for phase one of new builds; and Kiltearn Primary School with funding approved in 2019 for an extension and refurbishment project.

In addition to the educational priorities above, there are other significant investments required within the education estate, including:

• Fortrose, Tarradale, and Alness Primary Schools – further priority schools capital investment was agreed previously in March 2018 and June and August 2019.

• New Primary Schools at Stratton and Tornagrain: Required by either 2026/27 or 2027/28.

• New Secondary School at East Inverness: Required by either 2027/28 or 2028/29 (and/or significant further investment in existing schools).

• Gaelic Provision in Inverness: a feasibility study will be undertaken to consider opportunities to expand 3-18 GME provision in Inverness. Initial funding of £4m has been provided by the Scottish Government, with the potential to bid for additional funding in the future, subject the outcome of the study.

A review of the roll pressures and funding streams and a review of school catchment areas across all schools in Inverness has been planned to help to inform the strategic approach, potential options and timescales for all the priorities.