Work to begin 'immediately' on £55m music centre vision for Edinburgh landmark
American arts philanthropist Carol Grigor is bankrolling the £55 million overhaul of the old Royal High School on Calton Hill, close to where she is also funding the creation of the city's first purpose-built concert hall for a century.
The city council, which approved final designs for the project in December, has agreed a long-term lease to allow the A-listed building become a new home for the independent St Mary’s Music School, which is based in the city’s West End, and a 300-seater venue for public performances.
Violinist Nicola Benedetti, the director of the Edinburgh International Festival, is one of the key supporters of the project, hailing it as “an unprecedented opportunity to enrich the cultural life of Scotland and to serve as a beacon of true 21st-century music education for the world to see”.
The start of work comes after an eight-year campaign led by the Royal High School Preservation Trust, which was created by Ms Grigor’s Dunard Fund to try to secure the building, which was proposed to be turned into a luxury hotel at the time.
Councillors agreed in principle to offer a lease for the building to the trust two years ago after the hotel project was scuppered by the Scottish Government following a public inquiry.
The building, which dates back to 1829 and was originally designed by architect Thomas, has not been used permanently since 1968. It was opened on a temporary basis last year for the Hidden Door and Fringe festivals.
Ms Grigor’s trust has pledged £45m to pay for all restoration and redevelopment works at the site, as well as another £10m to create an endowment fund for the centre’s future maintenance and running costs.
Trust chair William Gray Muir said: "This is a significant milestone for the former Royal High School and the delivery of our shared vision for a new world-class centre for music education and public performance. Having planned for so long to conserve and protect the building for the city and the nation, it is hugely exciting for the trust to take possession of it at last and move ahead with restoration plans later this year.
"I must give great credit to our partners at the council for the support and assistance over recent months that has led to this point. As we prepare to move ahead into the redevelopment phase in the months ahead, we look forward to collaborating closely with the local community as we keep them up to date on progress.”
Council leader Cammy Day said: “It’s great news that work is about to start on this iconic building, set in the heart of our world heritage site. The new centre for music education and public performance will be a standard bearer for the city and Scotland more widely.
"I look forward to seeing the upcoming works to preserve and invest in this historic city centre building. I'm sure that the Royal High School Preservation Trust will do an excellent job in transforming the site and that the centre will enjoy great success in the years to come.”