AFTER years of debate, disagreement and delays, mums and dads could have been forgiven for thinking they would never see construction of a new Portobello High School.
But standing on the balcony terrace of the campus’ half-completed art department – and enjoying panoramic views across the Forth – it is clear this is a building that will be worth the wait.
Construction teams have provided a “first glimpse” of the £41 million home being erected for the Capital’s largest secondary in Portobello Park – and they are confident it will be completed on budget and in time for the start of the 2016-17 session.
Less than a year after turf was broken, the school’s massive frame has been topped out while work is continuing apace on the library, swimming pool and bespoke “break-out” areas aimed at fostering independent collaboration among Portobello’s 1300 pupils.
Youngsters are currently being taught in a crumbling 1960s tower block but staff have promised that, once complete, the new Portobello High will be among Edinburgh’s greenest and most advanced education centres.
As well as providing teaching and study terraces, architects have ensured that even internal corridors will be built with glazed screens, allowing daylight from floor-to-ceiling windows to reach as much of the building as possible.
Project manager Stuart Danskin, of Balfour Beatty, said: “If you look at craft, design and technology (CDT), Portobello will have the new-style, open plan classrooms.
“They are classrooms but you can move between them very easily. It’s about being as open as possible.”
Unenclosed CDT classrooms are only one example of a new approach to school campuses which has guided major reconstruction projects for Portobello, James Gillespie’s and Boroughmuir high schools.
City education bosses are particularly excited about Portobello’s pupil collaboration spaces – designed to encourage children to meet and swap ideas independently.
They said that a huge central corridor or “spine” – stretching for up to 150 metres from the assembly hall to PE – would enable ease of movement and interaction.
“We’re trying to move to as much open plan as possible,” said Billy MacIntyre, head of resources at the city council’s children and families department.
“There will be spaces in the school where pupils can come together and collaborate autonomously. We see these spaces as being genuinely innovative.”
Construction of the new Portobello High – which suffered multi-year delays following a Court of Session appeal by residents opposed to the plan – has proved one of the most contentious public projects ever undertaken in the Capital.
Parents said the sight of rapid progress since last autumn had provided a huge morale boost.
Sean Watters, secretary at Portobello Community Council, said: “Most people are relieved if not excited that it’s progressing and that there are no issues. It was a long process and a frustrating process – on both sides, to be fair. It looks like it will be more like a college-type of environment, and totally different from what the children here are used to – in a good way.
“My daughter will go into S2 when the new school is ready. The fact she will experience the old school, I’m quite happy about that – that she will get to see the difference and appreciate it more.”
Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, added: “I’m really pleased it’s progressing so well. We can see it’s springing up fast and that it’s going to be a fantastic new school.
“I think there’s a great deal of excitement and anticipation – people are overjoyed to see the school starting to take shape.”