On Friday we are officially launching the new Foundation of St. Columba’s College, with a look to the future development of the College. This is a fresh start, with a fresh emphasis and a new direction.
Development is usually seen as building: a new set of classrooms, new boarding houses, a new Astro, or, as recently, a new social centre. I could not be more happy about the way that Whispering House has turned out and I cannot now imagine St. Columba’s without that fantastic space in the middle of the College.
But what is next? What new project are we planning? It has actually been quite a challenge to work out the direction of our development as we go forward and we have spent a considerable amount of time batting around ideas, many of which have seemed initially to be just what we needed, only for enthusiasm to wane. I confess that it was frustrating that we could not fix on the big plan or the big idea as quickly as I would have liked, a project that seemed to fit in terms of the needs of the College and the finances that we could realistically raise or borrow. However, perhaps that period of reflection was necessary as, through that process, we moved towards a plan that now does seem to make sense.
So this is where we are now, as we plan for the future. The main thrust of where we want to head in the next few years is towards a much more sustainable campus, one where we are much less reliant, or not at all dependent, on fossil fuels. It would be great to be carbon-neutral and able to create much of our own energy and that is why we want to invest in an energy system that is run on wood chip and solar power, decommissioning our old gas-powered boilers. We plan to install a new heating system near the Sports Hall and lay new pipes throughout the College, while we also have plans to put solar panels on the roof of the Sports Hall and in the field behind.
Not only does it seem the right thing to do, but it is also something that the pupils themselves feel very strongly about. And understandably so. This is a move that will make a difference to the College for generations to come and I hope that future Columbans and parents, and even future Wardens, will look back and be grateful that we decided, at this time, to invest in the future sustainability of the College rather than launch into some magnificent new building project.
It may be an investment in the future, but I believe that we will start to see a return very soon from the savings that we will make, through the reduction of our use of fossil fuels. And there is also a spin-off that will be more concrete, for, by recommissioning our main boiler, we will be able to create a new classroom space in the middle of the College, next to Whispering House. That will be entirely carbon neutral and, once that has been done, we will be able to remove the old pottery shed in the lower yard and put more classrooms there too. In other words, the mission to make the school far more sustainable has a direct benefit for our teaching and learning. It is much better to be reusing old buildings than to be building from scratch on a new site and I am sure that the new teaching area has the ability to be an iconic space near the heart of the College.
There are other elements to our Foundation too, mainly to do with widening access to the College through raising more money for bursaries, but, whether through bursaries or through doing our duty to reduce our energy usage, sustainability and investment in the future is the driver behind the vision that we have. I hope it strikes a chord with you. It is certainly a direction with which we feel very comfortable and one which will leave a legacy for the future of the College.