Schools Building Projects

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 205 No. 13

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Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for taking this matter. I ask the Minister for Education and Skills, in view of the current over-capacity and ongoing demand for school places in Calasanctius College in Oranmore, if she will outline the current status of the application for new accommodation, including the timeframe for delivery. This happens to be the local secondary school in Oranmore where I live.

I will outline the facts for the Minister of State. Every week I receive telephone calls from people living in the parish of Oranmore inquiring if their children will get places in their local school. The school has 746 students and was built to accommodate 625. One of the saddest developments is that some children in the boys’ school next door cannot get into the school because they are eldest children and the current school policy favours siblings. The school would like to be able to accommodate all the children but there is an over-capacity issue.

The newly appointed principal of Calasanctius College wishes to record her thanks for the recent Department allocation of €420,000, under the devolved capital grant scheme, for the provision of six permanent classrooms, an office, store and linked corridor. Construction is under way on this project with a planned completion date of December 2010. Those six classrooms were to replace five prefabs currently housed in the local primary school and provide one new classroom to take in up to 25 to 30 children this year who would otherwise have been excluded. That does not take into account the facilities that are needed for next year.

As to the remaining portion of the accommodation needs for a school of 850 or more students, the board has secured planning permission for phase two of the building project and is most anxious to proceed with this much-needed accommodation. It is for that portion that I am seeking funding and the timeframe for delivery.

As the Department is aware, the enrolment trend in the local area is upward. A 2007 survey was supplied to the Department, courtesy of local primary principals, and a survey was supplied by the community development association. It is noteworthy that the total population for the Oranmore area increased by 298% in ten years, almost 300%, with the population having increased from 1,672 in 1999 to 6,656 in 2010.

The current enrolment in Calasanctius College is 746 pupils. As indicated in the report from the Department of Education and Skills inspector, Martin Bryan, there is a serious under-provision of general purpose space, which poses a serious health and safety risk. General classrooms are in short supply as well as specialist accommodation in subjects such as science, which is now a core subject at junior certificate, materials technology — wood, and technical graphics.

[837]The board of management agreed to accommodate an extra class group for first year for the 2010-2011 school year on receipt of confirmation of the provision of the extra six classrooms I spoke about, and it has been proactive in proceeding through the planning, tendering and engagement of a contractor with a view to completing this build by 2010. These classrooms will replace the fix existing prefabs. The current indications are that applications for enrolment for the 2011-2012 school year will well exceed capacity and the board is anxious to accommodate the needs of students from the catchment area who wish to enrol in Calasanctius College. The school’s analysis of applications received to date also suggests that the provision of other second level school accommodation in areas such as Claregalway, where the provision of a new school is being spoken about will not have any effect on applications for places in Calasanctius College. This is how large the growth of population is in the area. The vast majority of applicants — 93% — for places in 2011-2012 are from the feeder primary schools for Calasanctius College and it is their traditional choice for second level education. Unfortunately, as matters stand, Calasanctius College will be unable to cater for all these local children.

I have more facts but I would like the Minister of State to tell me the news with regard to the funding and timeframe for delivery for the new section I spoke about in order that local children within the parish, the eldest children of new families, will be accommodated in their local school.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: Information on Ciaran Cuffe Zoom on Ciaran Cuffe I am pleased to reply on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, who, unfortunately, cannot be present. I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline the Government’s strategy for capital investment in education projects and also the provision of accommodation for Calasanctius College in County Galway.

I certainly believe that this information should be available on the website of the Department of Education and Skills. The up-to-date position on any school proposal and facility in the country should be available for everyone to see at any time. It would make matters much more clear and transparent if such information were readily available on the Department’s website.

Modernising facilities in our existing building stock as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth is a significant challenge. The Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.

All applications for capital funding are assessed in the planning and building unit of the Department of Education and Skills against published prioritisation criteria, which were formulated following consultation with the education partners. The assessment process determines the extent and type of accommodation needed based on population growth, demographic trends, current and projected enrolments, recent and planned housing developments and the capacity of existing schools to meet the demand for pupil places. As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under the prioritisation criteria, which I have mentioned. There are four band ratings in all, with band one being the highest and band four being the lowest. Band one projects, for example, include the provision of schools where none currently exists but where there is a high demand for pupil places, while a band four project provides for desirable but not necessarily urgent or essential facilities.

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 them. In other words, a building project moves through the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it and as it is ready to proceed. As the Senator will be aware, a new building for [838]Calasanctius College was opened only four years ago. Since then the area has experienced significant population growth and the school currently has enrolments of almost 750 students.

Representatives from Calasanctius College met Department officials in February 2010 to discuss accommodation issues at the school and sought funding for the provision of additional permanent accommodation on a phased basis to cater for an enrolment of 864 pupils when all the accommodation had been delivered. The first phase was to deliver sufficient accommodation by September 2010 to cater for 747 pupils. The Department considered this application and approved a significant devolved grant to the school authority in March 2010 for delivery of phase one of the extension project by September 2010. This extension will provide an additional six general classrooms, an office, a store and a linking corridor, bringing total additional accommodation to 344 sq. m.

The school wrote to the Department again in September 2010 advising that phase one was well under way and would be complete by December 2010. In this context, it sought approval to proceed with the delivery of the second phase. Subsequently, the Tánaiste met the school authority on 27 October 2010. At this meeting it was noted that the second phase had a significant projected cost attached and would be considered a major capital project. Further details relating to this phase have been sought and the matter will be considered further by officials in the Department.

The Senator will understand that it is not possible to progress all projects at the same time as resources must be in place to complete the project. The proposal from Calasanctius College will be considered in the context of the needs identified and resources available to the Department. I thank the Senator again for allowing me the opportunity to outline the position of Calasanctius College.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I am pleased to learn of the recent meeting between the Tánaiste and the school’s board of management. The area east of Galway city is expanding and will require a further new school in addition to the accommodation required in Calasanctius College. I implore the Department to deal with the matter in a timely fashion.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: Information on Ciaran Cuffe Zoom on Ciaran Cuffe I share the Deputy’s concerns. The best approach to this matter is to ensure the relevant criteria are clear and transparent and details of the position of any school or proposed facility are clearly available at all times. We should not have to go through the rigmarole of debating such issues in the Seanad. The information should be simply and clearly accessible on the website of the Department of Education and Skills.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames That is a matter for the Department to address.

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