School redevelopment in Kirkcudbright gets underway

Jude Crooks in spacesuit outside Johnston school
Norette Ferns

A project to redevelop the Johnston School in Kirkcudbright is now getting underway, following the formal appointment of a contractor.

The exciting project will convert the empty and unused site into a multi-use building, including the conversion of the former gymnasium into a Dark Skies Visitor Centre.

To celebrate funders and project leaders met at the site this week, with Galloway Glens Administrator Jude Crooks boldly donning a spacesuit on loan from the Glasgow Science Centre.

The Dark Skies Visitor Centre will capitalise on the Galloway Dark Sky Park to show off the amazing dark skies available locally, to introduce the concept of light pollution and to introduce astronomy and what can be seen. 

The Galloway Dark Sky Park, centred on the nearby Galloway Forest Park was the first of such designations in Scotland and boasts some exceptionally dark skies, which gives a great view of the planets and stars beyond. Darkness can be measured using the ‘Sky Quality Meter’ which runs from 0 to 25, with a reading of 24 typical in a photographer’s dark room. Areas in the Galloway Dark Sky Park can measure up to 23 on this scale!

The Dark Skies Visitor Centre is set to be a popular addition to local activities and will act as a great launching point for visitors to the Dark Sky Park. Funding for the overall project is coming from a variety of sources including Holywood Trust, Big Lottery, LEADER, The South of Scotland Economic Partnership (SoSEP), the Regional Capital Grant Fund, the Kirkcudbright Common Good Fund and from the Heritage Lottery funded Galloway Glens Scheme.

Aerial view of Johnston School

Lesley Garbutt, Chair of the Kirkcudbright Development Trust, said:

"This is the beginning of the next phase of our redevelopment of a much loved building. It has been a long haul, but I am sure that everyone will be delighted with the results when we open the doors next year."

Nick Chisholm, Galloway Glens Project Officer, said:;

"The Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park is one of the treasures of Galloway, there are few better places in the UK to witness the majesty of the cosmos. It could be daunting for a budding astronomer to access this without support and information, but the facility being developed in the Johnston School provides the perfect introduction. The tie in with the Glasgow Science Centre, Scotland’s leading educational science attraction only increases value of this new facility.

"The work that the Kirkcudbright Development trust has done to make this happen has been truly inspirational, the Johnston School is an iconic building in the town that was in danger of falling into disrepair, the dark sky visitor centre and planetarium is just one of a number of projects which will enable this beautiful building to take centre stage in the community.

"We are able to make this award due to a generous grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with support from partners including Dumfries & Galloway Council’s Environment Team."

Visit the Galloway Glens website for more information.