Since closure, the Gairloch AAOR has been put to a number of uses. It is possible that the Civil Defence Corps used the site in the 1960’s but in the 1980’s the balcony and all the rooms at the front of the bunker were removed and the original entrance replaced by a large roller shutter extending well into the upper level. The large, high room so formed from the original two level control room has been and still is used by the Highlands Roads Department as a vehicle repair depot. In 1988 the rest of the building was converted into Highland Council’s standby (to Raigmore) Emergency Operations Centre the top and lower floors being a self contained NBC proof area (with internal blast doors) in a ‘U’ around the repair depot.
Fronting on to the road is a small block of offices, possibly contemporary with the AAOR, which are now used by the North of Scotland Water Authority; the AAOR blockhouse is in the yard behind. It is a two level above ground structure built to the standard design although there have been modifications externally as well as internally. A gently angled hipped roof has been added to aid water drainage and the small ‘chimney’ in one corner has been removed. A small extension with a new main entrance into the emergency centre has been added on the south face. While the original ‘main’ entrance has been replaced by the roller shutters the original rear entrance with its covered porch still exists although the original door (leaning against a wall) has been replaced by a heavy steel and concrete blast door.
Inside the new ‘front door’ the main stairway, balcony and front rooms have been removed. A stub end of the upper corridor can still be seen with a rail across it but this no longer gives access to the rest of the bunker and can only be accessed by ladder. Inside the entrance the generator would have been immediately to the left and the ventilation plant to the right; both these rooms still exist and have been fitted with heavy blast doors. The former standby generator room is empty but the former plant room now house the new standby generator with just 6 hours on the clock. Alongside these two rooms are two further rooms used as a store by the roads department and not within the gas tight ‘U’ of the emergency centre. Access to the remains of the lower ring corridor is through two heavy blast doors, one on either side of the repair shop. The rest of the lower floor including four stairways to the upper level and male and female toilets is largely unaltered with most of the rooms now empty. One of the rooms at the bottom of one of the stairways is lined on both sides with acoustic booths and would have been the communications room for the emergency centre. The room opposite the rear entrance is used as a store containing large quantities of boxed chemical toilets, paraffin lamps and other emergency supplies.
On the upper floor the front rooms and front section of the ring corridor have been removed and some of the partition walls between rooms have also been removed forming new large rooms along the two ‘sides’. One of these is used by the roads department for storage of road signs etc. There is an opening with a rail across down into the former well below with a large steel sheet with a gas tight seal that can be bolted across it if required. On the other side the ‘new’ room is empty apart from some electrical switchgear in floor standing cabinets at one end and a door into the new ventilation plant room beyond. As well as the ventilation and filtration plant there are also various control cabinets. At the rear of the upper floor is a small kitchen and canteen/recreation area. Throughout the bunker all the ventilation trunking has been replaced.
In September 2006 Highland Council put forward a proposal to relocate the depot which would release the land for housing. At the meeting of the Finance, Housing and Resources Committee of the Highland Council on 28 November 2012, councillors agreed to support a recommendation that the redundant depot be sold to the Gairloch and District Heritage Museum for the sum of £1 to be developed as a heritage and community centre.
The GDHC are required to vacate our current premises by 2015 and they have now commissioned and provided an architect’s Feasibility Study and a Business Plan demonstrating how the building could be transformed and sustained to meet their needs. It also offers scope for other business and community users working in partnership.
Moving to the former AAOR would enable the Museum to provide more Gaelic language and literature studies; traditional skills workshops and training; educational visits; archaeological and genealogical research; and heritage activities. It will also offer facilities for cultural events which are not available in the locality and become a community resource for eg mothers-with-toddlers and ‘reminiscence groups’ for older residents.