HOPES of establishing a major new cultural hub have been wrecked after a multi-million pound bid from a community arts organisation was trumped by a housing developer.
It is understood city chiefs have recommended accepting a £14.5 million offer from Cala Homes for the old Boroughmuir High School building.
Cala’s proposal would see the category B-listed structure converted into an apartment complex with around 100 flats.
The developer’s bid is more than double a £6.2m offer from Out of the Blue Trust, which wants to turn the school into an arts space featuring studios, performance areas and workshops.
As councillors prepare to decide which bid to accept, community leaders – who will meet tonight at Boroughmuir High to discuss the building’s future – said there would be huge disappointment if the chance to create a new arts space was lost.
And they voiced fears over the impact of dozens of new flats on Boroughmuir, currently facing oversubscription pressure ahead of its move next year to a £35m campus on the former Fountain Brewery grounds.
Mairianna Clyde, planning lead for Merchiston Community Council, said: “What we’re trying to argue is that apart from the social benefits, the Out of the Blue plan could work more favourably for the city as a whole than, possibly, Cala’s would.
“Boroughmuir High is a landmark building – Cala bought Donaldson’s School for the Deaf years ago and it’s still just sitting there.
“Cala’s bid is also contingent on them getting permission whereas Out of the Blue’s has more certainty about it.”
With nearly £5m from sale proceeds earmarked to help pay for the replacement Boroughmuir, Councillor Melanie Main, Green member for Meadows-Morningside, said: “I do understand the need for capital receipts to be ploughed back into improving our other schools and expanding the school estate.
“However, I’d urge [the] finance and resources committee to pause and reflect very carefully before it simply plumps for the highest bid.
“The Out of the Blue proposal is exactly the kind of bid we can expect when the Community Empowerment Bill becomes law and it’s vital the council reviews its merits in detail, looking for the long-term benefits not just the short term receipt.”
Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said reports of Cala’s bid confirmed that the decision to sell Boroughmuir was a mistake.
“It should never have been lost as a school,” she said. “I’m not against Cala – we need homes. My anxiety is about the way the council gave it up as a school.”
Rob Hoon, manager at Out of the Blue, said: “I’m hopeful enough councillors can be persuaded that what we’re planning is vital.”
A spokesman for Cala said reports the firm had submitted a bid were “speculation”. City council officials declined to comment.