High School project costs climb again as further delays are faced

New High School - further delays, more cost.
New High School – further delays, more cost.

A SPECIAL MEETING of the Moray Council has heard of increasing concerns over plans to build a replacement for the ageing Elgin High School.

Construction of the new school was to have begun in March – but a series of delays and an escalating price tag has saw the cost of the project rise to over £28million.

Now the local authority has been warned that new European legislation will come into play that is likely to delay the project even further.

Funding for the school is being provided mainly through the Scottish Futures Trust – but the Scottish Government must now use a new accounting model, ESA10, for capital funds – and that process is not likely to be completed until the end of this year.

“Obviously, by now we had hoped to be much further along with the project,” Moray’s corporate director of education and social care, Laurence Findlay told Councillors.

As the local authority agreed to commit £1.54million to the project, he added: “It is hoped that there would be a resolution to the ESA10 in the next six to eight weeks, but now that might be more like six months.”

Mr Findlay added a warning that the new costs of the building where based on current prices – and further delays would likely bring further costs. Councillors were also warned that unless work commenced on the project by September there was just no way it would be completed by the anticipated date in March 2017.

The growing concerns in Moray were discussed by Council Convener Stewart Cree with Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, with Cllr Cree saying: “I am getting more anxious – now I feel it threatens the project because we seem to be getting prepared for an extensive delay.”

Following the meeting on Tuesday a Scottish Government spokeswoman insisted that they remained fully committed to assisting Moray Council through the Schools for the Future programme, adding that they were working through a number of “complex issues” and were in discussions with HM Treasury.

The spokeswoman added: “We expect to resolve these issues but there has been some impact on a small number of projects in the interim – we are doing our utmost to ensure that delay is kept to a minimum and projects can move to a financial close as soon as possible.”

When it was first announced in 2012 that the new High School would be built the cost was given as £21million with construction expected to take 18 months. In June that year savings in that had been identified that reduced the build cost to £19million – however, problems with the site itself saw the project delayed and the price increase.

Moray Council also agreed a new design for the school last year to accommodate an expected increase in pupil numbers, committing an additional £3million to the project as a result. In December another £1.5million was agreed with total costs at that point rising to £21.1million.