Council 'cannot afford' £35m repair bill for crumbling concrete school

The local authority has warned that without £15m from the Scottish Government, vital council services will be cut.

West Lothian Council ‘cannot afford’ £35m repair bill for crumbling concrete school STV News

West Lothian Council has warned it cannot afford the £35m bill to repair its largest secondary school after it was found to contain a dangerous type of crumbling concrete.

The local authority is urging the Scottish Government to give it £15m to bridge the costs of rebuilding St Kentigern’s Academy in Blackburn.

Councillors have warned that without more cash they could be forced to make cuts to vital services.

Large parts of the school were deemed to be at an unacceptable risk after Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) was found throughout the building.

The concrete was used across the UK from the 1950s until the 1980s.

It has a lifespan of about 30 years, after which it is prone to collapse.

More than half of St Kentigern's Academy remains closed due to the discovery of RAAC.STV News

The Scottish Government said earlier this year that 16 councils had found the material inside their schools.

Over half of St Kentigern’s Academy has been closed due to the finding, affecting more than 1,100 pupils who attend the school.

The school, built in 1973, is among the five in the West Lothian Council area to contain RAAC. The cost to fix the buildings is estimated to be around £69m.

Pupils are set to face years of disruption with the new building expected not to open until 2026.

West Lothian Council said it already faces a budget deficit of more than £39m over the next five years and comes after it was forced to make £150.7m of savings between 2007 and 2023.

It has already allocated £20m of its own budget towards repairing St Kentigern’s Academy but is asking the Scottish Government to fund the remaining £15m.

Councillor Andrew McGuire warned of dire consequences for the West Lothian area if the Scottish Government does not fund some of the repair bill for the school.STV News

Andrew McGuire, executive councillor for education, told STV News that the situation in the school is “really bad”.

“We’ve been surveying the building for three years now and the situation has got progressively worse,” he said.

“Bit by bit we’ve had to close down various different aspects of the school and we’re now at the extent that 60% of the school building has had to be closed.

“The really difficult and complicated factor there is that it is the specialised areas of the school such as the kitchen, the assembly hall and all the PE facilities.”

McGuire said the council “simply does not have enough money to resolve this issue” as he described the school as the worst affected by RAAC in the area.

He said the issue “urgently and desperately” needs to be solved.

He continued: “As the situation stands we don’t know where we’re going to get the cash from.

“There are two options open to us. We are calling on the Scottish Government to help address the situation with RAAC here at West Lothian.

“If not then regrettably it will mean further cuts to council services to be able to afford the bill.”

Students are facing prolonged disruption due to the repairs.STV News

Headteacher Andrew Sharkey said every effort has been made to mitigate the impact on pupils and staff.

He said: “You cannot undertake a project on this scale, which includes the demolition of a large part of the school, without it having an impact.

“However, I have assured parents and pupils that we have gone above and beyond to ensure that the work is not impacting on teaching.

“Considerable efforts have been made to ensure that learning is not adversely impacted.  

“We have put in place a number of measures to enable us to achieve that; including; the establishment of a temporary learning village to accommodate learning/dining/assembly spaces lost due to the ‘closure’ of RACC affected areas of the school; internal re-organisation of administration, pupil support bases and alternative timetabling for the delivery of PE.

“We will have fantastic new facilities for our pupils and staff in place for summer 2026.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This is an issue the Scottish Government takes very seriously and the safety of those who use public buildings is the central consideration.

“Reviews of RAAC in property are being conducted to understand the extent of RAAC across the public sector estate. Once that work is complete it will allow us to work with the public sector on a considered solution.

“The Scottish Government has increased the resources available to local government in 2023-24 by more than £793m, a real-terms increase of £376m or 3%, compared to the 2022-23 budget figures.”

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