Community role of school is lacking

Mike Robson, chair of Villages in Control and their representative on the Mearns Academy Stakeholder Group, has attacked the lack of community facilities within the proposed new Mearns Academy.

Mr Robson said: “With the approval of the plans for the replacement Mearns Academy, councillors were quick to claim the credit for a job well done and slow to acknowledge the financial constraints placed on the community’s vision which remain in many respects ‘on hold’.

“Central funding provided only for a like for like replacement and allowed for no future increase in the Academy’s pupil roll. Wisely the core facilities of the new school will now accommodate up to 840 pupils rather than the initial proposal for 740.

“Unfortunately little effort has been made by Aberdeenshire Council to embrace the concept of a community school. No consideration within the design has been given to extend the community facilities for the expanding population.

“With Aberdeenshire’s proposals for a further 1,000 houses to be build in Laurencekirk within the next ten years, there is a clear case to have built in the capacity for expansion.

“The local consultation has been patchy and did not live up to the Council’s adopted standard, ‘The National Standards for Community Engagement’.

“Although a stakeholder group was established in September 2009, there is still no detailed plan of how the community organisations will benefit from the facilities at the new academy.

“The community are left with a mixture of fact and rumour. There are no plans for any kind of swimming pool. The existing sports centre which had been largely taken over by the school is to close and it is not clear how much public access will be available for the general public in the new school.

“The placing of the community centre in the academy removes it from the centre of the settlement. A petition by about a thousand users of the existing centre indicated that this would provide a challenge. A similar concern was expressed about access to the new library to be shared between school and community.

“There are currently over 70 community groups in Laurencekirk who meet on a regular basis and make good use of most of the halls and meeting rooms in the town. With the prospect of an increase in population, the last thing we want is for the number of venues to decline.

“This lack of forward planning by Council departments leaves residents in the dark about so many aspects of community life. The poor efforts to assess the needs of the community have surprised and disappointed many of the stakeholders.

“There is no doubt that the design of the school has followed the architects remit but whether it will be any more than ‘the academy’ remains to be seen. If you were to score the councillors on their performance I think the population of Laurencekirk would conclude that they ‘could have done better’.”