Fears raised over structure of St Andrews secondary school

Madras College Kilrymont Campus.
Madras College Kilrymont Campus.

Fears have been raised over the structural integrity of the Madras College junior campus which has been earmarked for a single-site secondary school in St Andrews.

It has emerged that answers to Freedom of Information requests by campaigners opposed to Fife Council’s proposal reveal that the existing building has serious structural failings.

The council is at present carrying out a consultation exercise - it ends on February 10 - on its preferred option to remodel and extend the Kilrymont school site.

The Parent Voice campaign group, which comprises parents of pupils at Madras and feeder primary schools, along with other interested parties, asked the local authority several detailed questions under FOI legislation.

A spokesman told the Citizen that while the full responses were still being reviewed, it was ‘‘particularly revealing’’ that the council was aware the existing building – which will be 50 years old when the refurbishment starts – had significant structural problems.

Parent David McCallum said that previous questions at public meetings regarding the health of the structure had been ‘‘batted away.’’

However, the outcome of a non-invasive structural survey undertaken by leading civil engineers Ove Arup and Partners revealed the extent of the problems.

Among their comments, which Parent Voice have branded as “very worrying,” is that the condition of the reinforced concrete frame is deteriorating where it is exposed to the elements - particularly on the east and west elevations - and major concrete repairs are required to prevent further corrosion.

Mr McCallum added that the firm had highlighted the lack of deeper knowledge of the structure, stating ‘..we would recommend that further testing of the reinforced concrete frame is carried out to determine the overall condition in detail.’

He said: ‘‘Tellingly, the civil enginers also state that ‘the lack of maintenance is evident throughout the property,’ and conclude their report by stating that an intrusive survey would be required to confirm any assumptions.

‘‘Parent Voice understand that this has not yet taken place, and it is being presumed that it cannot be carried out until the building is vacated.

”If one were to summarise, Fife Council’s position is that they will press ahead using a 50-year-old structure, with significant known problems, and the likelihood of more to discover. The cause of at least some of these problems is their own historic failure to maintain the buildings.

“Is this a position we can have any faith in? Remember, any delay caused by ‘newly discovered’ problems with this structure will mean children’s education will be further compromised by yet more time cramped in portacabins.

“If you think that the council’s proposition to re-use a crumbling concrete structure is unacceptable, vote ‘no’ to the consultation.”

Responding to the comments, and also questions posed by the Citizen, Colin McCredie, Building Fife’s Future project manager, said: “This report was commissioned in 2009 as part of a previous feasibility study for remodelling Kilrymont.

“The report is not untypical for a building of this age and construction and the issues raised have already been accounted for in our existing proposed design and programme for a new Madras College. The current design proposal is to strip the existing building back to the structural frame to facilitate the major remodelling to provide a school fit for the 21st century and this also will enable any remedial works to the structure to be easily carried out.

“The condition report did not raise any issues that we would not expect in a building of this age and construction and the issues raised do not constitute any risk to the occupants or the building.

“Routine reports such as this are common across our school estate and are dealt with by officers as operational issues. Unless a report was giving cause for serious concern there would be no requirement for it to be considered by a committee.”

Meanwhile, an ex-chairman of the former North East Fife District Council, Clive Sneddon, has expressed concern over what he sees as a failure by Fife Council to respond properly to the report by noted educational expert Keir Bloomer.

The document, said Dr Sneddon, made plain that its subject was the educational issues involved in refurbishing Kilrymont, and that the Muir Group, who commissioned the report, had no input into its content.

Dr Sneddon, who is also an ex-chair of St Andrews Community Council, added: ”Keir Bloomer addresses two sets of issues: the first arising from the current problems of the two-site Madras College, the second from the anticipated requirements of the Curriculum for Excellence, of which he was an author.

“The council’s executive director of education, Kenneth Greer, accepts all the educational arguments put forward, and thus that a larger site is required, but claims there is no such site in St Andrews.

“This response quotes the report’s conclusions from the first set of issues only. For the Curriculum for Excellence, active learning, through more private study or learning by team work, will require additional and more flexible space than is needed for current teaching methods, and further resources, including for more varied vocational work and sports. It is these future requirements which make the Kilrymont refurbishment not fit for purpose.

“From my past experience in local government, I would have expected a director of education to recommend to their council that any solution which does not meet the full educational requirements be rejected. Otherwise a backwards-looking monster is being created which can play no part in helping our children find their way in the world.

“I would ask residents of the Madras catchment area to say ‘no’ to what is now proposed, and I call on him to recommend that the council abandon its refurbishment plans and think again.”