29 March 2021

Community invited to have say on Gartly School

Aberdeenshire Council is inviting the local community to contribute to a survey which will help to inform the next steps for Gartly School.

This includes assessing whether Gartly School should be reinstated on its current site as well as alternative solutions which could include other schools within the Huntly cluster, in order to bring benefits to the wider community.

If any of the options involving other schools are considered worth exploring further, then full engagement will take place with those school communities.

The survey is being undertaken as part of a full options appraisal and extensive engagement with the local community. This follows the identification of an oil leak at Gartly School in December 2018 and extensive works and deliberation which have taken place since.

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. Public Health Medicine at NHS Grampian have stated that all contamination requires to be removed before the school can be re-occupied. 

An expected 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 are no guarantees the plans outlined would ensure all contamination is removed. All other options would require £245,000 for the land remediation at Gartly.

The survey includes alternatives to reinstatement such as building a larger replacement school with the potential for a rural hub which could incorporate wider facilities to support multiple communities, or extending an existing school to the same end. The survey will be open until 12 noon on Friday 16 April online at: https://tinyurl.com/GartlySchool

Laurence Findlay, Director of Education and Children’s Services took the delegated decision to mothball Gartly School from August earlier this month, having explained at the meeting of Education and Children’s Services Committee in January this year that he does not think it’s appropriate to maintain the status quo – whereby the school is operating from Rhynie School – for too much longer.

A report to elected members in January included reference to mothballing as a potential interim option and the integration of pupils into Rhynie School was also mooted during a meeting of local elected members at Marr Area Committee in November 2020.

Laurence explains: “Mothballing, rather than closing a school, gives the opportunity for it to re-open should circumstances change. Many hours have been spent considering implications of the various options by both officers and councillors, and now is the time for the community to have their say.

“Even if we did progress with remediation works now, taking into account the fact that extensive monitoring of ground and air samples would be required throughout the project, we would be going into another school year with two schools operating from Rhynie and that is simply unacceptable.

“Education and Children’s Services Committee have made it clear they are keen to see all options for the local area to be developed in full, recognising that it is important to consider the long-term benefits of all possible options, including reinstatement, for the community and for the school.

“In the meantime, parents and carers require a degree of continuity regarding primary school provision in the area. We now have a school roll of eight and it is important to consider educational benefit and enable the children and young people of Gartly to benefit from the opportunity to connect with a larger group of their peers.

“We are hugely grateful to parents, pupils and staff at both Gartly and Rhynie schools for their patience, and for all the work they have done in difficult circumstances. Ongoing engagement with parents and carers as well as staff will remain an absolute priority and our learning estates team continues to be in regular dialogue with families about the next steps.”

Mothballing the school does not alter the requirement for formal consultation on the future of the school. Laurence had planned to commence this arrangement from after the Easter break but has changed this to the start of the new school year in August following feedback from parents.

Officers are now expected to complete the full options appraisal, including the option to reinstate the school as well as further developed alternatives, and return to committee in June.