Deputy First Minister marks construction milestone at Highland school



John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister and cabinet secretary for education and skills, visited Merkinch Primary School to coincide with the completion of a state-of-the-art Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) structure.

(from left) Jillian Kean, headteacher of Merkinch Primary School; Frank Reid, managing director of Robertson Northern; Councillor Alister MacKinnon, Highland Council budget leader; John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and education secretary; Finlay Black, operations manager at Robertson

This is the first primary school in the Highlands and the largest school in Scotland to be built using a CLT frame, which is not only more sustainable than traditional methods of construction but which has been proven to positively impact the learning environment.

Being delivered by Robertson and procured via Major Works Scotland part of the Scape National Construction framework, the new school comprises an L-shaped modern primary and nursery block, with courtyard, astro-turf pitch and multi-use games area.

The listed Victorian building which has housed the school for almost 150 years will be retained and enhanced to accommodate the school dining room and family centre. 

Education secretary John Swinney, said: “It is fantastic to see the progress already made on the construction of Merkinch Primary School, one of 117 school construction or refurbishment projects supported through Scotland’s Schools for the Future.

“The innovative construction preserves the current B-listed building while employing cutting edge techniques to create a modern campus the whole community can be proud of. I look forward to seeing it again when completed.”

Construction of the new school commenced in February and work on the CLT frame began in April.

Frank Reid, managing director of Robertson Northern, said: “It has been a privilege to show Mr Swinney and the rest of the attendees around Merkinch Primary School now that the timber structure is complete. This is an important milestone in the project and really highlights how much of a radical change this will bring to the education campus.

“With the wellbeing of pupils and teachers at the core of its design, this project will deliver state-of-the-art educational facilities while safeguarding the legacy of the school which has served the local community for more than a century.”

Commenting further on the impact of the use of timber frames within learning environments, Bruce Wright, project architect at Norr, said: “Numerous studies have shown the positive impact timber can have on the occupants of a building, from reducing stress levels to boosting productivity and improving mental and physical wellbeing.

“Notably Holzcluster Steiermark’s year-long ‘Schools without Stress’ research revealed pupils taught in timber classrooms were more relaxed, slept better and made fewer concentration errors than those who studied in classrooms built using traditional materials. 

“With this in mind, we have designed the building in such a way as to leave as much exposed wood as possible to provide an enhanced educational environment which will help Merkinch pupils to attain and achieve their full potential.”

Cllr John Finlayson, chair of the care, learning and housing committee, said: “This is an exciting milestone for Merkinch Primary school as their new campus takes shape. Children, their families and school staff will no doubt be delighted with the addition of the modern school building and multi-use games area.

“Our commitment to continue our programme of refurbishment and renovation of Highland schools will see impressive improvements to the learning environment at Merkinch primary, both indoors and outdoors, for years to come.”

Mark Robinson, Scape Group chief executive, said: “This demonstrates the advantages of using modern methods of construction, which offer a more sustainable proposition and for Merkinch Primary School will give pupils an enhanced learning experience.

“Being part of the National Construction framework requires strong levels of client and community collaboration and I am pleased to see that this project will make a difference for the pupils and the local community of Merkinch.”



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