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Public meeting held on way forward for Gartly School

By Kyle Ritchie

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A public meeting to discuss the future of Gartly School was held on Tuesday, May 11, following the publication of results of a recent survey.

Aberdeenshire Council is currently working on a full options appraisal which will be presented to Marr area committee in June, to help decide the next steps for the school.

Public engagement is a big part of deciding what will be recommended to elected members by officers.

Those who took part in the public meeting have mixed views about what should be done next. Some members of the community would still like to see the school reinstated at its current location while others indicated a merger with Rhynie School is the best option.

In order to provide the best possible educational arrangements for the time being, Gartly School is to be mothballed from August 2021 and the remaining pupils are choosing an alternative local school in the interim.

A public meeting was held focusing on the way forward for Gartly School.
A public meeting was held focusing on the way forward for Gartly School.

Presenting the options to council committees, seeking agreement from elected members and allowing for budget considerations before any potential building works could commence will take several months.

Gartly School has been operating from an alternative location since an oil leak was identified at the facility in December 2018. Despite extensive remediation undertaken to excavate, process and properly dispose of a considerable volume of contaminated soil and other material costing in excess of £450,000, it has not been possible to resolve the problem.

The advice is that zero level of contamination – or one which is not detectable by analysis – would have to be achieved before the building could be re-occupied for educational purposes.

An estimated further £872,000 would be required to demolish part of the building, carry out further excavations and reinstate the building on its current site.

But the dilemma for officers as well as elected members is due to the fact there is no guarantee contamination can be removed. All other options would require £245,000 for the land remediation at Gartly.

The recent survey was shared with the wider Huntly community and received 152 responses. It outlined seven options for residents to consider, including reinstatement of the school on its current site, merging the school with others and building a new "rural hub".

One hundred and eighteen participants indicated that reinstatement of the school was "not worth pursuing", while 121 indicated that a merger with Rhynie School (where the school is currently located) would be their "preferred option", "second preference" or at least "worth pursuing". This was the most popular of the options outlined.

A previous survey of parents at the school, with seven responses, showed that all preferred to reinstate the school. Another, involving parents within the wider local catchment area, gained 35 responses and at that time most had indicated either reinstating the school or building a new school would be worth exploring further.

Valerie Stoddart, who is now providing leadership for both Gartly and Rhynie Schools under a dual headship arrangement, which the council said is common in many smaller rural schools, is keen to ensure all parents have the support they need.

She said: “I took up the post of head teacher for Gartly School in August 2019 and I think it’s important to acknowledge it has been an unsettling time for the school community.

"Sharing a small school isn’t easy and I would like to thank everyone at Rhynie School for being so welcoming and accommodating since we moved in 19 months ago.

“The health and safety guidelines due to the pandemic have meant we have had very little chance to work together but I hope we’ll be able to enjoy some joint activities this term, online at least.

“Thank you to all our families for their patience and understanding throughout this period of change. For now, we are continuing to enjoy our time as two wee schools in one and we wish everyone all the very best for the start of the new academic year in August as well.

"We will be supporting all children who will be taken through their transitions in the next few weeks and we have lots to look forward to in terms of outdoor learning, sports and fun.”

Aberdeenshire Council's director of education and children’s services Laurence Findlay, made the delegated decision to mothball Gartly School from August 2021.

He said: “We know it has been a challenging time for all concerned and I hope arrangements from August will provide everyone with a bit of breathing space.

"We are absolutely committed to providing the best possible services and support to all children and young people in Aberdeenshire and wish everyone well in the weeks and months ahead.”

Officers are expected to return to Marr area committee with the outcomes of the full options appraisal in June.

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