Construction work on a new Madras College is finally under way, more than a decade after it was pledged by Fife Council.
The first spades were struck into the ground in an official turf cutting ceremony for the £50 million secondary school in St Andrews on Monday.
As pupils helped mark the long-awaited milestone at the Langlands site, council co-leader David Ross joked he “still bears the scars” of his involvement in the saga over the last 10 years.
It is anticipated the 1,450-pupil school, which will serve the St Andrews and Tay Bridgehead areas, will be ready for pupils to move in to by the summer of 2021.
The local authority made a commitment to replacing Madras College’s Kilrymont and South Street campuses in 2008, following a damning criticism by inspectors of its split-site arrangement.
However, the road to the new college has been plagued by numerous twists and turns, most notably a Court of Session ruling in 2016 which prevented the school being built on green belt land at the south of the town.
An earlier attempt to broker a deal with St Andrews University for land at Langlands was scuppered when negotiations broke down in 2011.
The tide turned in late 2016, when it was revealed that renewed talks with the university had resurrected the prospect of a school at Langlands.
Mr Ross said: “Langlands has always been the preferred site for the replacement school.
“I hope we can now go forward and provide the modern, fit-for-purpose secondary school that is needed and deserved for the area and that will serve pupils and communities across St Andrews and north-east Fife for many years to come.”
School rector David McClure said dedication and perseverance had finally paid off.
He said: “The new Madras College will deliver for generations to come the outstanding experiences and outcomes that the present Madras College has always tried to deliver.”
A land exchange deal will involve the university taking ownership of the school’s South Street campus, which it will lease to the council for a nominal sum until the new building is ready.
The council has also agreed to contribute £2.5m for the construction of an access road from the A91, which will eventually extend to the St Andrews West expansion.
Pupils keen to get off to a fresh start
Creation of a new secondary school in St Andrews at last was a result of determination, according to Fife’s education spokeswoman.
SNP councillor Fay Sinclair said: “In education people are familiar with the three ‘r’s but we have the three ‘d’s.
“For over a decade we have seen determination… to overcome the hurdles this project has thrown up.
“We have seen a deal struck to secure the site and now we move forward to delivery of state-of-the-art new educational facilities for our young people.”
North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie said the cutting of the turf was a tremendous moment, many people having doubted the new school would ever be built.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader said: “The teachers already do a brilliant job, now they can have a school which matches their aspirations.
“Many people thought this day would never come and still probably won’t believe it until the building is up.”
The area’s SNP MP Stephen Gethins said: “Well done to everyone in Fife Council, the university and across the community who has worked so hard to ensure pupils at Madras College will get the new school building they so deserve.”
St Andrews Conservative councillor Dominic Nolan said: “As St Andrews has waited so long for a new school these celebrations are a tangible reminder for the community, parents and students that progress has finally been achieved and that all efforts are being made to deliver the school.”
Pupils who will learn in the new building and others for whom it will be too late took part in the ceremony.
Head girl Hope Kennedy, in S6, said: “We were told we would be going into it. It’s good it’s finally happening.”
Cameron Hendry, head boy, said pupils would be excited about the new school but would miss the South Street campus.
He said: “There is a lot of history in South Street, but there’s going to be history made in the new school.”
Rio Rennie and Erin Kyle, S1 pupils in the Kilrymont Road building, are eager to see the school’s new cafeteria, classrooms and science labs.
Timeline to new school
2006: Madras College split-site accommodation is strongly criticised by school inspectors.
2008: Fife Council commits to creating a new St Andrews secondary school.
2009: Two options come to the fore, the renewal of the Kilrymont site or, as preferred, a new-build at the St Andrews University-owned Langlands site.
2011: Negotiations over Langlands break down and the university pulls out.
2012: The original target date for completion of the new school passes.
2013: A site in the green belt at Pipeland Farm becomes the frontrunner and planning
permission is granted, but a threat of a legal challenge is raised.
2014: The St Andrews Environmental Protection Association Limited (Stepal) pursue a judicial review.
Mar 2016: Stepal secure victory and the Court of Session quashes planning permission for Langlands.
Dec 2016: Fife Council reveals it has been in talks with St Andrews University over the Langlands site.
Apr 2017: A proposal of application notice for the new Madras is lodged for the site at Langlands.
Feb 2018: Detailed plans are formally lodged with Fife Council for the £50m school.
Jan 2019: Planning permission is formally granted for the Langlands site.
Jun 2019: Go-ahead given to trigger option agreement for exchange of ownership of
Langlands and Madras College’s South Street building between the university and council.
Sep 2019: First turf cut for new school at Langlands.
2021: Hopes remain high the new Madras College will be ready for pupils to move in for the start of the 2021 academic year.