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      Barra & Vatersay News

Barra’s community councils are seeking a meeting with the Scottish Education Secretary to discuss the crumbling state of Castlebay Community School.

The community councils representing Castlebay and Vatersay, and Northbay are also seeking an urgent update from Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth on future plans for the school.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, Isles MSP Alasdair Allan says there is a “clear need” for details on the school’s replacement, an issue that has been dragging on for a decade.

Dr Allan says there is added urgency due to the “ongoing and increasing risk to the health and safety” of pupils, staff, and the public and the impact on school students’ work.

The Isles MSP added: “I visited the school building myself in January 2024 and noted numerous issues with the building’s fabric, including roof leaks, black mould, rot, holes in the ceiling, missing ceiling tiles, drafts [sic], and broken equipment.

“The condition of the school building is rated as D: Bad, indicating the building’s economic life has expired and/or is at risk of failure.”

In March, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar promised the Castlebay School would be further inspected to determine what remedial action could be taken.

Donald MacLeod, Chief Officer for Education and Children’s Services stated: “Once they report on their findings, the Comhairle will consider what work is viable to be undertaken.

"It is, however, well documented that the Comhairle’s resources to do such work are limited, and any investment in the current building proportionately reduces the Comhairle’s ability to invest in the new development as there are no alternative funds available to finance the scale of work required on the current building.

“It is universally recognised that the only real solution for Castlebay Secondary School is the development of a new school building, and that is our priority to pursue.”

In a separate letter to NHS Western Isles chief executive Gordon Jamieson, the Isles MSP asks if the health board envisages including health services within any future community campus should the funding situation change.

In addition to a deteriorating school, the local community is also fighting for a replacement for the ageing St Brendan’s Hospital.

Several assessments of the hospital were planned over the winter to inform improvements and alterations to extend its working life. 

A new design is on the drawing board but is in limbo until a Scottish Government funding review in 2026.

Barra has been a victim of the glacial process of national decision-making – in 2020, years of consultation produced the Community Campus plan – it was to resolve all the issues about St Brendan’s Hospital which was built in the 1980s and which can no longer fully support the development and delivery of clinical models that will care for the community in the future, is costly to run and maintain, and hinders health and social care integration.

And all the issues relating to the Community School were to be resolved as well – it comprises several ageing buildings designed for an earlier approach to educational provision. The current school no longer reflects the needs of the community for the integration of education, skills and jobs that will support long-term island resilience.

However, the scale of the scheme aroused local opposition and last year the entire £53m project collapsed after the Scottish Government removed the health element from its spending plans. It is now almost 20 years since these issues were first discussed. 

If you want to get a sense of the scale of this funding nationally, the new railway station at Inverness Airport, opened last year, cost £42m.