Schools Building Projects

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 205 No. 7

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Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I thank the Cathaoirleach and welcome the Minister of State to the House to discuss this important matter. As her background is in education, she will be only too aware of the importance of a comfortable physical environment for the teaching of children in schools.

I raise this matter on behalf of all the stakeholders involved in Portlaw national school, County Waterford, including the pupils, staff, parents council, board of management and patron. The school is of medium size, is attended by almost 240 students and has 14 teaching staff, as well as ancillary staff. Historically, there used to be both a boys national school and a girls school run by the Sisters of Mercy at this location. While I publicly acknowledge the enormous contribution to education of the Sisters of Mercy, some years ago the girls school closed and the schools were amalgamated. The boys national school was extended and I acknowledge the investment by the Government in various extensions to that school over the years. The site of the closed girls national school lies directly adjacent to the existing school, is available for an extension and everything is ready to go. Unfortunately, the position to date is that three prefabs operate on the school site, one of which is a special unit for the hearing impaired. Another very important point in today’s climate is that such a large school lacks a general purpose hall for the congregation of pupils, either for sport or for general events. This is an important facility for any school and should be provided by the State.

My information is that the application for a new extension to the school goes back as far as 2002. Although many surveys have been conducted and the relevant information has been provided, the project appears to have met a barrier at this point because no clear direction is being given by departmental officials. I understand the preferred option is the renovation of the old girls school. However, many conservation issues arise in that regard because it is on the Minister’s list and probably will be protected in the future. Moreover, it is not the cheapest solution to the provision of an extension and this is where confusion has arisen. I am aware the board of management has sought numerous opportunities to meet departmental officials to try to make progress on the project but unfortunately they are not getting the requisite co-operation.

The population projections for this area and this town are increasing continually, which is acknowledged in the various county development plans and in the town’s local area plan. Consequently, there will be an even greater need in the future for a proper, permanent school [479]structure in this town. I am hopeful the Minister of State may have some good news that may further this project. I understand this school, which has waited for so many years, already is in the Department’s priority one band. For that reason, I hope to get good news from the Minister of State and that the school eventually can see the commencement of its new extension, which would provide a good, permanent and comfortable physical environment for pupils and staff and would stimulate the local economy and create employment.

Deputy Áine Brady: Information on Aine Brady Zoom on Aine Brady I am taking this matter on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills. I thank Senator Coffey for the opportunity to outline to the House the Department’s position relating to the application for improved accommodation from Portlaw national school, County Waterford. This school is a co-educational and fully vertical national school that operates under the patronage of the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. Based on the 2009 school returns, the school had an enrolment of 232 pupils, which represents an increase of 4% over the previous five years. The school has a core staffing level of a principal and nine mainstream teachers, as well as a number of support staff. The school also has a special class for hearing impaired pupils.

The school authority has applied to the Department for major capital funding to provide for an extension and to refurbish its existing accommodation. As the Senator will be aware, all applications for capital funding are assessed in the planning and building unit of the Department. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings, site capacity etc., leading ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution. As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects. These criteria were devised following consultation with the education partners. There are four band ratings under the criteria, each of which describes the extent of accommodation required and the urgency attaching to it. Band 1 is the highest priority rating and band 4 is the lowest. Documents explaining the band rating system are available on the Department’s website.

Projects are selected for inclusion in the school building and modernisation programme on the basis of priority of need. This is reflected in the band rating assigned to a project. In other words, a proposed building project moves though the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it. As the Senator correctly stated, Portlaw national school’s application was assessed and was assigned a Band rating of 1.2. The progression of all large-scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction will be considered in the context of the Department’s multi-annual school building and modernisation programme for 2011 and subsequent years. However, in light of the competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at Portlaw national school at this time.

In the meantime, however, the Department has provided funding for the school to cater for the interim accommodation needs. The school’s current accommodation consists of seven permanent mainstream classrooms plus two temporary mainstream classrooms that were installed between 2006 and 2009, as well as a unit for the hearing impaired class which was installed in 2005. Under the 2010 summer works scheme, the Department approved funding for the complete replacement of windows at the school.

I again thank the Senator for raising this matter and assure him that the Department will continue to work with the school authority regarding its accommodation needs.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I acknowledge the Minister of State’s response but unfortunately I already was familiar with much of its content. The school is lucky to have teaching staff of the highest order who provide the best of education. However, the Minister of State’s response acknowledged that this school has a band priority of 1.2. While I understand there is great [480]competition for budgets and funding at present, this school has been waiting for a number of years and already is in a high priority band. I ask the Minister of State to revert to her senior Minister, who at the very least should ask the departmental officials in the planning and building unit to engage with the board of management to enable it to set in train a plan or project in which the various stages were known, because there has been no engagement whatsoever for almost two years. This would be a start and were the Minister of State able to arrange this, it would be appreciated.

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