The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) spent £1.2 million on refurbishing a building owned by a Glasgow college as a contingency option following the devastating fire that wrecked its world-famous Mackintosh Building – but never actually moved in.
According to the Sunday Post, the art school spent £757,000 on the main contract for the refurbishment of City of Glasgow College's currently empty Charles Oakley Building in the city centre, with a view to using it for studio space in case two of its teaching buildings remained out of use at the beginning of the academic year.
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The GSA reportedly also spent £134,000 on office furniture, £153,000 on professional fees and £185,000 on IT fees before, according to a report yesterday, the project was deemed to be too costly and the plans were abandoned. The GSA stresses the contingency plan was simply no longer required and no public money was spent.
City of Glasgow College does not currently use the building, located near its new Cathedral Street campus, and part of the plan for the redevelopment of the City of Glasgow College estate included the disposal of the Charles Oakley.
Information released through a freedom of information request and seen by Tes shows that, in emails sent in September 2018, the GSA told the Scottish Funding Council that the “biggest setback has been with Charles Oakley House”. It goes on to say that “GSA has had to look at other locations for staff and students from 1 October onwards”.
But while at that point the Charles Oakley Building was still seen as “essential” for a later stage of the recovery process, on 6 October 2018, former GSA director Tom Inns wrote to the SFC: “Over the past few days GSA has received updated information on Charles Oakley with the associated costs. As GSA does not now need to occupy the building in the short term for the beginning of GSA’s semester 1 and it will cost GSA somewhere in the region of between £60-100K per year for it to sit empty, the GSA board of governors have decided they do not want to progress the lease with [City of Glasgow College].”
The GSA said that the Reid Building was released from the security cordon in September 2018, with the Bourdon Building released the following months, and students were therefore able to use those spaces. And Tes understands that using the Charles Oakley Building at a later stage has now been ruled out by the GSA.
A spokesperson for the art school said: “We had an absolute duty to make sure that there would be appropriate studio and workshop facilities for our students when they returned for the new academic year in autumn 2018.
"After the fire, it was not known how long the Bourdon and Reid Buildings would be inaccessible inside the Glasgow City Council security cordon. We had to look for alternatives for over 1,000 students so we considered a wide range of possible properties. Doing nothing was not an option.
"Work began as soon as possible on the Charles Oakley Building to make sure that alternative studios and other facilities would be available if needed. Throughout this process we kept the Scottish Funding Council fully informed.
"Like any responsible organisation, the Glasgow School of Art has business interruption insurance to cover situations such as this. No public money was spent on the necessary preparation works in the Charles Oakley Building.”
A City of Glasgow College spokesperson confirmed that the college still owned the building and it was currently unoccupied. She added: "Despite active endeavours to sell the 1960s building, lack of commercial interest resulted in longer-term plans for the property being revisited. Those are commercially sensitive and too early to share."