THE first cut on construction work for the new Portobello High School is to be made today.
The key milestone at the disputed site is the first step in the creation of a new modern school for the area, with the building expected to be complete by August 2016.
Work on the new school is going ahead after the City of Edinburgh Council successfully took a Private Bill to the Scottish Parliament allowing it to appropriate Portobello Park for educational purposes.
The school will become the council’s largest secondary school with space for 1400 pupils. In addition to providing state-of-the-art teaching facilities, the school will have both indoor and outdoor sports facilities, including a swimming pool and two all-weather pitches, enabling all curricular PE to be provided on site, rather than have pupils bussed off site as currently happens.
The local community will also benefit from the new facilities which will be open for community use outside school hours, with local residents able to book the sports pitches free of charge as part of compensation measures put in place to replace the loss of the park. Another compensation measure will see a new £1 million park built on the existing school site.
The first “sod” will be cut today by council leader Andrew Burns and education convener Paul Godzik, along with headteacher Peigi McArthur and four pupils who will be some of the first to attend the new school.
Councillor Godzik said: “This is a key milestone in the Portobello project and many people in the local area will be delighted to see work finally starting on their new high school.
“Rebuilding Portobello High School is one of the Capital Coalition’s highest priorities and we were determined to ensure we met this commitment. I look forward to seeing the new school which will open its doors to pupils in August 2016.”
The start of work on the £41m project may go some way to ending a dispute within the community. Plans to replace the crumbling 1960s building with a new school on the protected green space were thrown off course when objectors successfully appealed to the Court of Session in 2012. The council was forced to lodge a Bill aimed at switching the land’s legal status, amid increasingly tense community campaigns.
Murray Easton, Balfour Beatty Regional Managing Director for Scotland, said: “We are delighted to be starting construction of the new Portobello High School. We look forward to delivering a state-of-the-art school with educational facilities that give people the best opportunities to both teach and learn.
“During the construction period we will engage with the local community to keep them updated with the progress of the works and to deliver community benefit targets leaving a lasting legacy for the area.”