Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Reply from Nan McFarlane re: FUTURE OF MARR COLLEGE, dated 16.08.2010

Further to my post of 09.08.2010, Nan McFarlane is South Ayrshire Council member for Troon and SNP Group Leader who also sits on the Marr Trust board.
Dear Mr Crawford,

Thank you for your comments regarding Marr College. I would like to take this opportunity to reply to some of the issues you have raised in your email.

Firstly could I say I attended Marr College from 1950 -1953. My memories of the College are the plush purple carpets and curtains, filled art galleries, daily assemblies with organ playing, every pupil wearing school uniforms, sports days and tables groaning with silverware at prizegivings and a school role of just over 400.

Marr College was built to accommodate 380 pupils, it currently has a school role of 1,130 and at one time was over 1,500. The dramatic increase of school numbers over the years has affected a building designed for much less. I also sat on the Marr Educational Trust for eight years as a Community Council member before being elected onto the Council in 2007. My role now on the Trust is as a Council representative but I have not attended any meeting of the Trust since the start of the informal consultation. I have to advise you that as a member of the Council’s Cabinet, I will be one of seven Members who will take the final decision on Marr College. I therefore need to be impartial during the consultation period.

However, I can provide you with some factual information that may be helpful for you to understand more fully the situation of the future of Marr College.

The ongoing consultation is only an informal one and there will be a formal consultation taking place later this year which will include details of both the refurbishment and replacement proposals, giving costs, plans and timescales provided the Scottish Government comes forward with further funding for schools.

Schools that have already been replaced recently in Scotland were all built during the 1950’s; they were not constructed to what would be acceptable in today’s standards hence the reason they were being replaced. The five schools South Ayrshire Council approved for replacement in 2005 were proposed under a finance scheme called PPP which since 2007 have given the new Council members a major millstone round our necks to pay off. A PPP system works in the same way as a mortgage and will take 30 years to pay off and only then ownership of the schools pass to the Council. Meanwhile the developer has responsibility for the maintenance of the schools over the 30 year period.

The current school building scheme has been implemented by the SNP Scottish Government, who having no borrowing powers are awarding two thirds of the cost of a secondary school with the Council borrowing the third. The Council now have the opportunity to build schools and incorporate ongoing financial maintenance plans which has greater sustainability and ensures our schools are maintained in perpetuity.

You are quite right to say Marr College has been neglected over the years by former administrations, that was one of the reasons I put myself up for election to bring about change to stop this municipal vandalism and to make the necessary changes to the way the Council is run. I believe I and my fellow Councillors are doing just that. In the past Marr College missed out on funding as there were no plans on the table for the school. The current consultation is to be ready with plans for any cash that could come our way from the Scottish Government.

However, I have to disagree with your views on the historical listing of the building. I cannot speak for Councillor Hywel Davies, but he didn’t explain himself well enough to give the full extent of the listing. The assembly hall is listed which includes the sloping floor, the seats and the ceiling ruling out any multi-use of the space. The tiles on the corridors are listed and require the services of a specialist company if we needed to do any work on the walls. We got permission from Historic Scotland to put up a “Welcome to Marr College” plasma screen in reception, a similar one erected in a nearby school cost just over £200 to install, the one at Marr was over £1,000 to install due to the specialist help required to mount it. Some of the school has been altered but it has been in areas that are not covered by any historical listing.

One point we have to consider should the option of a refurbishment be implemented, is where do we house the pupils for two years while the work is ongoing. It has been suggested that temporary huts be placed on the playing fields and this would take up most of the playing fields. The ground would need to be excavated for sewage and power to service the huts. If the playing fields are not an option the Council will need to decant all the pupils somewhere else as the law dictates we cannot have children being educated on a building site over and above the health and safety issue. Other factors to consider is the purchase of the building and the land it sits on which is estimated at £7 million. The playing field would then be leased to the Council. If refurbishment is not the preferred option and a new school is built elsewhere, the Marr College will revert back into the ownership of the Marr Trust again and I understand the Marr Trust have had developers in looking at the building to convert it into a future funding stream for them if this happens.

A new build on the playing field will encounter as many problems as a refurbishment of the building. The Council will need to buy 40% of the space to build a school and lease the remainder as playing fields. The Trust is open to all possibilities as long as they can keep a funding stream going for their own educational activities. The cost of such a prestigious piece of land will be expensive and we believe the Trust may not want to sell off all the playing field to the Council which will incur another cost of leasing the playing field. There is also the issue of planning to overcome as playing fields are protected from development.

Lastly can I assure you this is genuine consultation or as you put it ‘real’. We started out with a group made up of school staff, pupils, the Parent Teacher Association, Community Council members, interested public members, the Marr Trust and local Elected Members to look at possible sites in Troon. The results were considered by independent consultants and reduced down to the two options currently out for consultation. The next stage is to go public with the details of the two options through a formal consultation period. The final results will be placed with the Council’s Cabinet for consideration which will in turn come before the full Council meeting for approval. The Council have no preferred option, we have taken no decisions on the future of the Marr College other than to approve the consultation process.

I hope this long spiel from me has given you some assurances that democracy is alive and well in South Ayrshire. I would just like to finish by saying education should not be about buildings, it is the quality of what is in them that counts, my priority is the future education of the youngsters in, not only Troon, but all over South Ayrshire. I want to raise the bar on education so that it comes up to the standards I experienced at Marr all those years ago and a good environment for my own grandchildren to be taught in.

Nan McFarlane

SNP Group Leader
Christopher Crawford
My website

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