At 2pm tomorrow, the city council’s finance and resources committee intends to decide who should be allowed to purchase the old Boroughmuir High School, a grand building in the heart of the Bruntsfield community which has been the local school since 1913.
The first many people heard about the bids was last week. Of the 15 prospective purchasers, two are being talked about. Cala Management Ltd is offering £14 million (subject to conditions) with the intention of turning the building into 100 luxury flats. This bid would provide the £5m needed towards the new Boroughmuir school currently being built (which will cost some £35m – the rest is coming from the government), leaving up to £10m for the council to spend on other Capital projects.
Arts and education charity Out of the Blue (OOTB) is offering £6.2m. Its bid proposes to keep the building – and the nearby St Oswald’s church annexe, currently the school drama department – as a community resource. With very little building work required, it would turn the school into an employment hub for hundreds of small creative businesses, a social space for the community, a cafe that would provide training and jobs for unemployed young people and, at a later date, the development of a possible 20 social housing flats. In addition, OOTB is promising to work closely with local schools, providing much needed additional space for activities.
Tomorrow’s decision will be taken by 13 councillors. It is the 27th item on a tightly packed agenda which leaves little room for discussion. The papers for the meeting say that the bids have already been evaluated against a number of key criteria, with price being top of the list. The briefing papers summarily dismiss OOTB’s bid for not offering as much money as the preferred bid and for planning conditions which are not acceptable, although no-one seems to know what these are.
The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill will soon become law. It sets out the Scottish Government’s intention to consult with and empower communities, involving them much more in decision making. I want to live in that Scotland, the one where communities are valued, respected and consulted rather than a Scotland where communities are seen as obstacles in the way of a council’s paternalistic determination to do what it thinks is best.
Merchiston community council – in response to the nearly 2000 locals who have signed an online petition – is requesting that a decision on the sale of the school is delayed so that the longer-term social and economic arguments for both bids can be looked at more closely and so that the community can be properly consulted. I support that request.
Kate Tregaskis is a local resident, charity worker and parent.