New school moves closer

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THE new Mearns Academy is moving ever closer, with Aberdeenshire Council declaring their intention to close the existing school with effect from July 4, 2014 and that from August 19, 2014, pupils will continue their education at a new Mearns Academy Community Campus, located on the opposite side of Aberdeen Road.

The council must go through a statutory consultation process to close one school and open another and that process was launched at a public meeting in the academy last week, chaired by education committee chair, Councillor Richard Stroud.

Head of Resouces Wilfred Weir explained that the roll of the academy was continuing to rise. It currently stands at 620 and is expected to rise in the years to come. The capacity of the current school is 540.

The existing building is ranked C in terms of both its condition and suitability.

The government is funding the new school to the tune of £11.2 million through the Scottish Futures Trust, with the council funding the remainder.

The new academy will be built with a capacity of 640 initially, but with sufficient core areas that additional accommodation could be provided for future generations, up to a maximum of 840.

Mr Weir explained that an options appraisal on a number of suitable sites was carried out. Input was sought from stakeholders and the proposed site was the one which scored the highest.

The new academy campus will had pupose built sports and community facilities, as well as a community library.

It is anticipated that groups and individuals making use of the exisiting community centre, library and sports centre will transfer to other local facilities. Many will transfer direct to the new facility, though some may utilise the primary school, the St Laurence Hall, or privately owned facilities such as the Dickson Hall.

The meeting was opened to questions and comments and in response to community council chair David Nelson, Mr Weir said the improved quality of community facilities within the new school will outweigh the increased travelling distance.

Education officer Helen Shanks said that various local groups had expressed concerns, but they would work with these groups to ensure they had access to the same facilities as before. They were for instance looking at the Out of School Club using the primary school and were working closely with Community Learning staff who are close to the community.

Architect Neil Reid gave assurances about safety relating to buses and other vehicles.

Mike Robson questioned the long term sustainability of the school as a community school given that 1,000 houses are proposed for Laurencekirk.

Education director Maria Walker said access would be down to good management, goodwill and good planning.

Mark Clark of the Mearns Academy Community Group asked if the site had been purchased and was told that the matter was progressing and had been before the P&R Committee that day.

Provost Bill Howatson said: “We are at a historic moment, at the cusp of beginning work and about to begin a new era of teaching. A core of 840 is an investment for the future.

“Mearns Academy has an outstanding reputation and is about to get 21st Century facilities.

“The public must just have a little more patience and next summer we could be cutting the first turf.”