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Royal Deeside :
Ballater Centre - The 'old school' project

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A 'Planning for Real' exercise carried out over late 2003 - early 2004 identified a desire amongst residents of Ballater that the old school should used for the benefit of the village. The grand Victorian stone-built building stopped being used as a school many years ago but was converted into a popular Environmental Education Centre which closed due to rising costs in 2000. The building, which was good condition has since lain empty and is showing signs of decay.

This project is looking into the viability of converting the building into a community asset, based on a mix of commercial and community use. The site has now been offered to the North East of Scotland Preservation Trust who will seek a viable future. This page describes some of the actions taken, the constraints faced and what has still to be done.

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Old school, Ballater The old school which might be converted into a new centre

The old school at Ballater stands in about 1.5 acres of ground roughly one-half mile from the centre of the village and within the conservation zone. The main building is a substantial stone-built structure dating from Victorian times but there are numerous (rather tatty) small buildings within the grounds. The main building is now in moderate condition but the other buildings probably require demolition. As long ago as 2003 Aberdeenshire Council indicated its willingness to consider promising proposals for using the building subject to the constraint that they retain part of the site for possible location of affordable housing.

The Ballater Centre Development Group (BCDG) quickly established that any proposal would need to be based on a mixture of commercial and community uses. The income from commercial use would be used to subsidise the community use. A major obstacle on the community side is that Ballater is lucky in having a wonderful set of community halls. These, like the old school, are stone -built Victorian constructions which are very expensive to heat and maintain. It is important therefore that the proposed 'Ballater Centre' should not affect the income of the village halls. It is believed that this balance could be achieved through letting much of the main building for commercial office space and using the remainder for a mix of social work projects, community learning and other community uses such as an arts centre. Also, because of the nature of the building, it is felt that the building would need to be well-insulated and have an 'eco-friendly' heating system.

Given this starting point a Feasibility study was commissioned. This reported in November 2005 and the report essentially supported the steering group's suggestions. One important change was the architect's proposal to remove a sizable piece of the main-school - which was a post-Victorian insertion to yield a central court-yard. This had the joint effect of substantially reducing the size of the building - and hence maintenance costs - and removing the part of the building most like the village halls.

Ballater Centre plans

Extract from Architect's proposed plans for Ballater Centre

The cost the conversion, insulating and 'underground heating' is substantial so the expected initial costs were high. However, BCDG considered that there was sufficient promise to move to developing a proper business plan with the eventual aim of raising funds for the conversion and running of the centre. The present proposals were based on

Training centre for benefit of residents and businesses in Royal Deeside and eastern Cairngorms National Park
Centre for outreach for groups specialising in long-term care (e.g. cancer support, dementia support, NHS)
Community activities complementing those in Village halls
Commercial letting providing financial support for the above

However, in 2006 the site's owners identified potential problems with the feu conditions and halted discussion until November 2009. At the end of this period, BCDG submitted some updated proposals to the Director of Education of Aberdeenshire Council. Unfortunately the submission coincided with the start of a prolonged period of reorganization within the Council during which control of the school was transferred away from Education. Disappointingly for BCDG, the site was then offered to the North East Scotland Preservation Trust (NESPT). The trust then formed a partnership with Ballater (RD) Ltd, a local registered charity, to raise funds for an Options Appraisal study. This appraisal looked to see if there was a viable and sustainable way of using this site subject to retaining the listed school building.

The Appraisal report was completed in mid 2011 with the main outcomes pointing to the high cost of any proposals and concluding that conversion of the main buildings into high-cost housing was more likely to succeed than converting them into mixed use as recommended by BCDG. After a period of over two years NESPT declined the offer of the site in early 2014. Thus (March 2014) it appears at first sight that no progress has been made over more than a decade, there has been one good outcome. In line with a recommendation from BCDG, Aberdeenshire Council re-purchased the former teacher's house adjacent to the school. The site is therefore now complete once more allowing alternative views as to how the site might be developed.

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