South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has warned that any failure to fully complete the remaining elements of the Dumfries Learning Town project at the same time during Phase 2 would be “utter betrayal of pupils, teachers and parents”.
The MSP was commenting ahead of a meeting of Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Education and Learning committee on 5 September 2019, which will consider a report on the project.The vague report update Councillors on “cost estimates” for the project and claims that the Scottish Government’s funding model for new investment in schools focuses on buildings assessed as being standard C and D. While Dumfries High School is in this condition, Dumfries Academy is not- raising fears that funding would not be made available from the Government towards refurbishing the Academy. The report also claims that overall that funding available for new and refurbishment of schools from the Government will be less than previously expected.
Colin Smyth said, “The Scottish Government hasn’t yet published details of their funding model but it’s the councils job to make clear to the Government that Dumfries Learning Town is a project that has to be looked at as a whole, not individual schools. The report to councillors that refers to “enhancements” to current campuses is meaningless waffle that will leave parents and teachers utterly confused. There is a growing feeling that the aim of council officers is to build a new Dumfries High School and associated primaries but not refurbish the Academy at the same time and that would be an utter betrayal that councillors should reject or worse still patch up the current schools. Pupils, teachers and parents at the Academy will feel they are being treated as second class and that’s just not acceptable ”.
“When this project was started clear promises were made that it would be broken into two phases with phase one featuring one new build secondary and one refurbishment and the same for phase two as far as the secondary school element is concerned. If the Government is not prepared to provide a share of funding for both the High School and Academy then the Council should prioritise doing so from their own capital funding. That programme is currently underutilised because the timetable for the Learning Town has already slipped. We have been here before. The Government refused to put a penny towards the Bridge, but the Council delivered that from their own capital resources. The longer they leave refurbishing the Academy the more expensive it will become to do so”.
“Any attempt to leave the Academy out of phase Two will put the very future of the school at risk. It is no secret that there are some opposition councillors and officials who support closing the Academy and if there was a change of administration in the future, they would happily shut the school. I have heard them talk about moving Gracefield Art Gallery into the Minerva Hall at the Academy. Maybe refurbishing and rebuilding only three of the four Dumfries secondary schools and leaving the Academy out is an attempt by some to make parents and pupils vote with their feet and move their kids to new schools and let the Academy whither on the vine. We cannot let that happen”.