Royal High School Preservation Trust Outline plans to relocate St Mary’s Music School to the former Royal High School

As reported previously, an alternative proposal for the former Old Royal High School on Regents Road have been announced. The Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT) website gives a summary of their proposed reuse of the buildings.

NTBCC were pleased to welcome two Trustees from RHSPT to our meeting on May 11 to outline their plans as currently developed.

Outline of presentation

Although detailed architectural plans are not available at this stage, the intent of the presentation was to gauge the level of public support for their proposal. They were sensitive to the position regarding the Duddingston House Properties (DHP) proposal to redevelop the site into a prestige hotel and who currently have an arrangement with the owners (City of Edinburgh Council) to lease the site for 125 years subject to planning permission being granted. Although RHSPT have submitted a rival pre-Application Notification, they do not wish to comment on the merits of the DHP proposal or interfere with the planning process regarding that scheme. However, in the event that DHP fail to gain the necessary consent, RHSPT have tabled an alternative.

Plans for the Buildings

RHSPT outlined plans to retain as far as possible the buildings on the site but if reusing the later-built gymnasium building to the east proves too much of a challenge they would consider demolition of this building and replacement with a new building no larger than the current footprint and lower than the adjacent Hamilton building using modern building techniques to house separate and secure boarding accommodation for the St Mary’s Music School pupils. They also felt that this would be relatively unobtrusive when viewed from other key Edinburgh landmarks and the existing tree screening would also lessen the impact on the skyline.

The western terrace (as viewed from Regents Road heading westwards) would be kept as far as possible in its current state (except for demolition of the prefabs built in the 1940’s), with the Victorian lodge retained. No changes are proposed for the south-facing elevation of the central Hamilton building so retaining the views so valued by Edinburgh World Heritage and Historic Scotland.

The main, central Hamilton Building would serve as administrative offices, classrooms, rehearsal rooms and differently sized spaces for public concerts and perhaps spoken-word performances and master-classes.

The current building does however have its challenges in terms of both horizontal and vertical connections. The initial proposal for coping with these constraints - for example , to improve internal access (including disabled access) - would be to add a contemporary, glazed corridor to the rear of the building which would be visible from Calton Hill but invisible from the front.

The role of the Royal High School Preservation Trust

RHSPT’s sole objective would be the preservation of the building. It would ensure that it had sufficient, guaranteed funding to pay for restoration, conversion as well as on-going maintenance. The major benefactor at this stage would be the Dunard Trust but in addition funding is either available or would be sought from a multitude of other sources including perhaps members of the public. An additional income stream could be generated by letting out the buildings including the accommodation block for visiting orchestras / musicians outside of normal term time.

St Mary’s Music School’s current premises in the West End would be sold and the proceeds used to set up an endowment fund to support its role and provide additional support for ensuring that the school is available to the best pupils regardless of their background.

Staff and Governors at St Mary’s are said to be thrilled at the prospect of moving to the new site, believing that it offers opportunities for great improvements in what they can offer both pupils and the city as a whole.

NTBCC’s Initial Thoughts

NTBCC’s initial reaction is broadly positive. The proposed scheme at first inspection would seem to be a good fit with the size of the building with significantly less external modifications and interventions planned on the major buildings on the site than the alternate proposal. NTBCC were also supportive of the desire expressed by RHSPT to ensure increased public access to the site through concerts and master classes and even possibly as an Edinburgh Festival / Fringe venue.

However NTBCC is fully aware that the finer details need to be fully understood to ensure that this proposal represents a long term, sustainable use for the 'at risk' building whilst maintaining the architectural integrity and setting for the buildings on the site.

NTBCC will follow this proposal with interest and will attending the proposed Pre-Application Notice consultation, planned for later in June. Details will be available from the RHSPT website.

Details of the current proposal from Duddingston House Properties can be found at http://www.urbanistgroup.com/portfolio/hamiltons-greek-revival-school-restoration and NTBCC’s response to their Pre-Consultation here.