Fury over taxpayer-funded rebuild of private school to clear way for bypass

26th November 2010 at 00:00
But proposed route change remains in doubt as campaigners mount legal challenge

Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money have been spent rebuilding one of the most expensive private schools in Scotland to make way for a road which may never be built.

The International School of Aberdeen, a day school which caters mainly for the children of oil and gas executives, moved to its new state-of-the-art home in Cults, on the outskirts of Aberdeen, in August.

The 350-pupil school boasts a climbing wall, 25-metre indoor swimming pool, fitness suite and 350-seat theatre, and charges secondary pupils #163;16,000 a year.

It cost #163;51 million to build and was paid for by the Scottish Government, Aberdeenshire Council and Aberdeen City Council, one of Scotland's most cash-strapped local authorities, so that the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) could go ahead.

The school's previous building, a few miles away in Milltimber, was earmarked in 2006 for demolition to allow construction of the 28-mile route.

But the old school is still standing and the road's future now hangs in the balance.

Road Sense, the community campaign against the bypass, last year failed to persuade a public local inquiry that the route should be abandoned. But, while finance for the road was spared the axe in Finance Secretary John Swinney's budget statement last week, the project remains on hold while campaigners challenge the decision in court.

Now, Aberdeen City councillors are poised to vote next month on whether to delay, renegotiate or even stop the route, when they consider a budget report identifying #163;127m worth of savings.

Other options include closing five primaries and two secondaries; starting nursery at the age of four or stopping pre-school education altogether; withdrawing half or all pupil support assistants; and replacing much face-to-face teaching with online secondary education.

Grant Bruce, Educational Institute of Scotland local secretary for Aberdeen, said: "If these proposals go through, education in Aberdeen is going to be unrecognisable in two or three years' time.

"It's a disgrace that amount has been spent on a school, perhaps unnecessarily, when they are looking at wiping out the music service in the city or making music instructors redundant to save amounts that are small in the context of #163;51m."

The bypass is expected to cost #163;295-395m, with the Scottish Government covering 81 per cent and Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils each footing the bill for 9.5 per cent.

The director of the International School of Aberdeen, Daniel Hovde, conceded that its old 1980s building had now been replaced with a purpose-built facility, virtually free of charge. But pupils and teachers had not wanted to move, he insisted. A major project to create a new games hall and theatre at their former Milltimber site had just started when they received the news they would have to leave.

"When it was announced the road would come through Milltimber on December 1 2005, we were in shock," said Dr Hovde. "In May 2006 the route was chosen that would actually come right through the school. We loved our school and had a great facility. It took a long time to get our heads round the fact we had to move and to get excited about the new building."

In a like-for-like build you did not get to replace tin with gold, Dr Hovde explained. However, the ISA had a high standard of finish and that had to be replicated.

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said Scottish Government ministers were committed to delivering the bypass as soon as possible, and Aberdeenshire Council said it was vital to the economic success of the area.

But there were mixed messages from Aberdeen City. A council spokesman told The TESS that the reference in the budget report to stopping the peripheral route was a "printing error", while the vice-convener of the finance and resources committee, Ian Yuill (Liberal Democrat), insisted its inclusion as an option was not a mistake and that staff had been asked to think the unthinkable.

"That's what they did," he said. "Now councillors have to make a judgment about what options to pursue."

He predicted the bypass would not be abandoned.

emma.seith@tes.co.uk

STORY OF A SCHOOL

The International School of Aberdeen began life as the American School in Aberdeen, built to serve the children of US oil employees, Scottish and other foreign children. It downsized and became the international school in 1996, after American families began to leave the area.

Today 28 per cent of pupils are American. The next largest pupil population is from the UK; they make up 16 per cent of the roll. Director Daniel Hovde estimates that just 35 Scots attend the 350-pupil school. The Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route will link the A90 Aberdeen-Dundee road at Stonehaven, Charleston with Blackdog.

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