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July 8, 2003

Deaf school sold for flats in £ 15m deal

From: Edinburgh Evening News, UK - Jul 8, 2003


HISTORIC Donaldson's College has been sold to a major property developer in a £15 million deal to turn the building into luxury flats.

The agreement between the college board and Cala ends long-running speculation about the future of the A-listed city landmark.

At least 100 flats, selling for around £200,000 each, are set to be created in the main building designed by William Henry Playfair and completed in 1851. Other flats are expected to be built around it.

The cash from the deal will allow the school for the deaf to move to more modern premises beside the new Queen Margaret University College site at Craighall, near Musselburgh.

The proposals are also likely to mean the demolition of a modern block built within the college grounds. under a £1.2 million Scottish Executive grant in 1999.

Governors of the school are believed to have been sworn to secrecy over the sale until a public announcement is made.

While the school would not confirm a

deal had been done, a source close to the agreement said: "The deal with Cala was ratified in June. There were four firms being considered, but Cala was the best.

"The money will allow a new school to be built, with up-to-date facilities."

Designs for the flats are believed to still be in their early stages. However, the agreement ensures that the spectacular front lawn which runs from the building to West Coates will be retained and views of the building from the road will be preserved.

Trustees of the school announced last year that it was to go on sale in a bid to solve ongoing financial problems.

Suggested uses for the property have included a hotel, an art gallery and a replacement for Boroughmuir High School, but property experts say a housing deal would have been the most lucrative.

John Chalmers, convener of Donaldson's board of trustees, said he would not comment on the deal, but described negotiations as "complex".

He added: "Whatever happens to the Playfair building, the important thing for people to understand is that anything the trustees do is to ensure we provide the best facilities for the children."

Mr Chalmers added that it would be at least five years before any move would take place - a timescale which would tie in with the expected completion date of the new QMUC campus.

If a new facility is built beside the new campus, it is likely to be independent from the university but would allow the school to take advantage of the institution's speech therapy expertise.

Martin Hulse of heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association said: "This building is pretty important and there are certainly difficulties in terms of sub-division."

He added:

"The front lawn is an important part of the setting and there would have to be careful consideration as to how you would use the central courtyard."

Oliver Barratt, vice-president of the Architectural Heritage Society of Edinburgh, said: "It will be very peculiar flats, the rooms are so vast, so high. I don't know how it will be made into flats.

"It would have been much better kept as some form of institution and would have made a very much cheaper parliament."

Simon Fairclough, marketing director of the Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre, said as many as 350 flats could feasibly be fitted into Donaldson's.

He added: "Two-bedroomed flats were selling for an average of £200,000 in the last quarter, so you are talking about between £40m and £70m in total."

No-one from Cala was available for comment.