Nagging doubt over land purchase

AS staff and pupils of Mearns Academy and the wider Mearns community look forward eagerly to the building of a new £24 million school, it has been revealed that the land for the new-build has still not been purchased.

The new school, to be built with over £11 million from the Scottish Futures Trust and the balance from Aberdeenshire Council, has been described as a “superb facility” but a nagging doubt as to the future of the project remains until Aberdeenshire Council announce that the land purchase is complete.

Speaking at Mearns Community Council, Alan Mowat, said: “The land has still not been purchased and we have been repeatedly told that the timeline is tight.

“The project needs to be started by a certain time and completed by a certain time to qualify for the government money.

“This delay has got to be placing things in jeopardy and I am nervous.

“I do not want to be negative, but if the land is not purchased in the next few months the project could be under threat. There surely has to be a point by which the land purchase has to be complete.”

Provost Bill Howatson commented: “The landowner is a willing seller. When there is a willing seller and a willing purchaser, there obviously has to be some negotiations.

“I have had no indication of any serious concern regarding the purchase of the land.”

Academy rector Ian Parkin said that in his experience everything was very positive.

“I have visited two new schools in West Lothian and I have to say that the plans for the new Mearns Academy are superior.

“Our architect team are very good and are keen to listen to local views. We are to have a theatre with raised seating and a capacity of around 300 which could attract visiting artists.

“There have even been investigations regarding advertising for the theatre which could be seen from passing trains.

“Consultation will be robust and there will be further public meetings in due course.”

Chairman David Nelson said there had been a well attended public meeting last week to discuss the community facilities in Laurencekirk once the new school is built.

There have been fears that the well used community centre in the High Street will be disposed off once the new school is built, but Provost Howatson said no decisions have been taken.

“We have to balance the need to maintain an old building and support a new building. The consultation will give an indication of what the public want.”

Councillor George Carr said: “We have to engage with people on community education and I’m not convinced we are there yet. We need the input from those at the sharp end of service delivery.

“Everyone has to be involved and I would encourage everyone to take part. We want this to be a showpiece school which serves the needs of Laurencekirk in the long term. We have one chance to get it right.”

A swimming pool at the new academy has been described as an “aspiration for the future” and Mr Mowat said the only reason Laurencekirk was not getting a pool was money. Councillor Carr said south Aberdeenshire ticked all the boxes for a pool.