Contact us on 01851 705743 or
email info@welovestornoway.com

The only certainty about progress on delivering the Barra and Vatersay Community Campus (BVCC) is funding uncertainty, Comhairle nan Eilean's Policy and Resources Committee will hear on Wednesday (April 24). 

Meeting in Vatersay Hall, councillors are being asked to give Chief Executive Malcolm Burr the go-ahead to explore three alternative options on how to progress a new Castlebay Community School in the light of continuing funding uncertainty.

The ageing school, opened in 1985 by the then Prince of Wales and Princess Diana, has rapidly deteriorated in recent years. Pleas for the school to be replaced have been brushed aside.

Despite its extensive age-related faults, nothing substantial has happened since 2010, when Comhairle nan Eilean Siar identified the school as a high priority. However, in the intervening 14 years, it has been unable to secure the required funding.

Last year, the long-awaited new school was dealt a severe setback when the Scottish government decided not to proceed with the hospital component of the proposed community hub until after 2027 and the next round of Scottish government/NHS Scotland capital funding.

The move has effectively derailed the community campus project while the school continues to deteriorate, particularly the secondary section.

The Scottish government's funding delay has exacerbated the existing design's shaky investment prospects. In November 2022, it was already thought to have a shortfall of at least £17 million.

The report before Wednesday's Policy and Resources Committee states: "Despite a number of helpful discussions, there is currently no formal commitment to increased funding beyond that already secured in principle. It should be noted that funding previously secured in principle is inevitably subject to variation pending the final scope of the project."

Unless the Scottish government steps in to bridge any funding shortfalls, the design needs to be rethought in view of the urgent need to improve school provision in Castlebay.

Councillors are being asked to greenlight the exploration of three options. These are: 

Option A - A new build primary and secondary on the south side of the A888 and the formation of a sports hub on the opposite side by retaining the swimming pool, sports hall, and fitness suite. Constructing a primary gym on the south side would result in a smaller all-weather 5-a-side facility at the sports hub.

Option B - A new build secondary on the south side and a refurbishment of the existing primary. The formation of a sports hub opposite by retaining the swimming pool, sports hall, and fitness suite but with a smaller all-weather 5-a-side facility.

(In both Option A and B, the community campus is retained. However, a question remains whether it is also used for early years provision.}

Option C - A new build secondary on the existing site, refurbishment of the existing primary school, retention of the community campus with modest refurbishment of the existing leisure facilities, and a 7-a-side all-weather pitch on the south side of the road.

However, the report notes that other sub-optimal and radical options may emerge, including  reusing purchased decant accommodation in a permanent solution and converting the 
existing sports hall into a two-storey learning space. 

It continues: "The Comhairle finds itself in a position of, instead of completing the details of the funding package for an integrated Community Campus, having to consider and implement piecemeal development of the Campus project, which, while both desirable and urgently necessary, does not represent best value for the provision of the integrated services which these communities require. 

"Nevertheless, the provision of new and integrated education and leisure facilities is urgently required, and it is critical that the 
Comhairle agrees, at this meeting and at the June 2024 series of meetings, the next and clear steps forward." 

The report also notes input from community stakeholders, education officers, and practitioners is key to ensuring a revised specification meets immediate and long-term "essential requirements."

It predicts there will be "huge stakeholder frustration" over the separation of the sports and education facilities, which the existing community campus overcame but is now deemed unaffordable given the current funding situation.

Councillors are being warned that whatever revised proposal they agree to in June will effectively be a new project, requiring a new project team, project governance, and funding model.