Mar 31 2010 by Judith Tonner, Airdrie & Coatbridge
THE fate of Gartsherrie Primary was sealed at two rowdy and ill-tempered council meetings lasting more than seven hours.
Councillors voted 38-20 to close the school after more than four hours of debate at a marathon meeting last Thursday night, ratifying the sub-committee’s 19-12 vote two days earlier.
Their decision – the last of four primary school closures agreed that night – was greeted by a slow handclap from some of the dozens of Coatbridge parents watching proceedings from the public gallery.
Cries of “absolute disgrace”, “this was a done deal”, and “see you in court” were directed towards councillors by the furious families.
Gartsherrie parents were particularly angry to hear Labour representatives Tony Clarke, William Shields and Peter Sullivan, in whose ward the school lies, vote for its closure with the rest of their party.
Coatbridge North and Glenboig independent councillor Martin McWilliams was the only local member who spoke in the debate or voted to save the school, alongside fellow independents George Devine and Gordon Murray, and the whole SNP group.
Heated debate flew back and forth across the council chamber as the respective cases for closing and saving the four affected schools and two nurseries were debated.
SNP councillor Frances McGlinchey, who lives in Glenboig, proposed the ultimately unsuccessful amendment to save Gartsherrie at Thursday’s decisive North Lanarkshire Council assembly.
Wearing one of the school’s campaign T-shirts, the Strathkelvin representative said: “The process lacks integrity as parents have not been listened to.
“The consultation was, in my perception and those of the parents, a sham – 5000 people took the time to do ‘standard’ letters.
“Gartsherrie Primary is part of the community and has wonderful support from parents, carers and grandparents, but this proposal is to break up the school community.
“Those going to Greenhill [which is moving to a new building next year] will be uprooted not once but twice, and that’s abuse.
“Gartsherrie is disabled friendly, a fine sandstone building unlike the PFI MFI buildings we see elsewhere; this report is based on an outdated property condition survey and will result in larger class sizes.
“Endorsing these closures will be shoddy work, and as the T-shirt says, it could be your school next – I shudder if we let this happen.”
Her motion was seconded by Coatbridge South councillor Ian Ferrie, with party colleagues Tom Johnston, Alan O’Brien and John Taggart also speaking in support of the school’s retention.
Councillor McWilliams spoke of his desire to save the school, saying: “I really think it will be a mistake to close Gartsherrie Primary.
“I grew up in the area and the primary school is very much at the heart of the community; as a youth I attended night classes there in first aid and I think schools should be used more for community learning and development.
“The consultation was flawed as it was based on an HMIe report which was several years out of date, and the future housing developments in the area aren’t reflected well in the report.
“I’m concerned that if Gartsherrie closes, it may lie derelict like the former Alexander Hospital, which was later set on fire.
“Overall catchment areas should have been looked before now, but this should at least have waited until the new Greenhill Primary is built; it’s ill-timed.”
Independent Cumbernauld representative Gordon Murray added: “I’m against party politics in local government – from the start it was clear that whatever effort the parents put in, these schools were going to be closed.”
However, learning and leisure convener Jim Logue said there was a “compelling case” for Gartsherrie shutting its doors.
The Airdrie Central councillor said: “We can wear the T-shirts and grandstand to a balcony, but we’re doing what every other council in Scotland is doing and to pretend otherwise is just politically mischievous.
“We can’t sustain 8500 empty school places – we have to address our financial circumstances and extra capacity.
“The facts are very simple that Gartsherrie is 35 per cent under capacity and 67 pupils on the 131 roll are placing requests.
“We’ve been told we’ll be challenged in the courts, and that we don’t own the building when we have evidence that isn’t the case.
“I accept the point about the double move for those going to Greenhill but we’re extremely sensitive to that; appropriate support will be put in place and every child will be looked after.
“This is a difficult decision but I believe there will be positive outcomes – I’d rather see us closing significantly under-occupied schools and invest in the receiving schools, teachers, resources and support staff.”