Final bid to save old Portobello school looks doomed

Old St John's is earmarked for demolitionOld St John's is earmarked for demolition
Old St John's is earmarked for demolition
A FINAL throw of the dice to save an historic former primary school in Portobello looks doomed as bulldozers prepare to roll in.

Campaigners worked all week to set up a company in the hope of transferring St John’s, on Duddingston Road, under community empowerment laws.

But the city council refused the application and, with an appeal expected to take six months ruled out, demolition seems imminent.

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Last ditch attempt to save Portobello school doomed to fail

“The council have stonewalled us with misinformation for two months and have refused to engage with us repeatedly,” said campaigner Rosie Nimmo.

“A community asset transfer would preserve a fine, historic building that is a local landmark for community use and artistic and cultural uses.”

Campaigners including Edinburgh arts guru and former St John’s pupil Richard Demarco are desperate to save the former school, believing it to be an important piece of education heritage.

Another esteemed figure to wade into the fight to save St John’s is Edinburgh University historian Sir Tom Devine.

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The city council wants to demolish the site and replace it with a park it pledged to deliver as part of the new primary and senior school development.

Built in 1924, the Neo-Georgian building was designed by renowned school architects Reid and Forbes.

It is thought to be the first newly-built Roman Catholic school in Edinburgh, and possibly Scotland, after the Scottish Education Act 1918 integrated denominational schools into the state system.

Some campaigners want to see it become an alternate new home for the Palette community arts centre after its base is knocked down as part of Meadowbank work.

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They believe such a community arts venue at St John’s could earn the council £130,000 a year in rent.

Their fight made it into the council chamber this week where Tory Portobello councillor Callum Laidlaw brought up concerns.

“Certainly the community feels that the initial consultation was perhaps not as thorough as it could have been, particularly given the change in ward boundaries.

“I wondered, given the lack of clarity in the consultation, if the convener would consider a halt to the demolition while a community asset transfer might be explored over the coming week.”

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But education convener Cllr Ian Perry replied: “The short answer is no. This has gone through planning. If anybody had wanted to object then they should have objected at that stage.”

A city council spokesman said: “The request for a community asset transfer of the former St John’s RC Primary School has been refused. Reasons for this include the council commitment to building a new park in line with the Bill that went through the Scottish Parliament in 2014 and public consultations have taken place for the whole school project, including the design of the park which has planning permission. The benefits for the community by providing a new public park to replace the area of Portobello Park occupied by the new high school are greater than those described in the request.”