Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Rural Environment Protection Scheme
Schools Building Projects.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to highlight this matter, which I have previously raised on the Adjournment. The Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, who responded to me on that occasion, is familiar with the issues which are at stake. Ballygarvan, which is approximately ten miles from Cork city, used to be a small rural village. Like many other villages near large urban areas, it has been an attractive location for development. The provision of facilities such as schools has not kept pace with the development of many such villages, unfortunately. The development of a new primary school in Ballygarvan has been a long and protracted issue. In 1998, the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, promised that the area would get a new school. The site that was identified was in the ownership of three separate parties, which unfortunately led to delays. The entire site was finally acquired this week by the Diocese of Cork and Ross, on the basis of its understanding that the Department of Education and Science will proceed with the construction of a new school building there.
Ballygarvan national school, which has 265 pupils, rents eight prefabs at an annual cost of approximately €84,000. The Ballygarvan area is developing. Many housing estates have been built in the area over the past ten years. Approximately 140 houses have been built in Ballygarvan over that time. Most of the people living in them now have young children and would like to send them to school in the village. It is desirable for young people to be able to mix in their own localities. I strongly support that because it is important for children and their neighbours to have a sense of ownership of their local communities, where possible. I understand that planning permission has been granted for the construction of a further 140 houses in the area, which will put further pressure on the school under discussion.
Earlier this week, Cork County Council signed over the third part of the proposed site for the new school to the Diocese of Cork and Ross, which now owns the entire site. I would like the Minister for Education and Science to give a commitment to proceed with the construction of the new school building. He has indicated previously that it is within his capacity to provide a school at the site in question. Now that the ownership of the site has been reconciled, the next step should involve the appointment of a design team. I ask the Minister to give a commitment to appoint a team and to make progress with this development as soon as possible. We not want the appointment in question to become a long and protracted affair, involving endless consultation. I do not think Ballygarvan national school should be left in such a quandary. We need action now.
I am aware of schools in other areas that cannot cope with the additional student numbers that have resulted from the excessive development in their localities. Procedures should be put in place to fast-track school developments. In this case, the design team should be appointed, the planning process should be completed, all the boxes should be ticked and on-site work should commence as quickly as possible so that the school, the local children and the local parents can be accommodated.
The Department of Education and Science is well aware of the long history of the proposed development at Ballygarvan national school. As a site has now been acquired, further action should be taken immediately. I ask the Minister of State to tell the House when a design team will be appointed, thereby ensuring that progress can be made with the construction of a new school building in Ballygarvan as quickly as possible.
Seán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I will respond on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. I thank Deputy Clune for raising this matter and giving me an opportunity to outline to the House the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects. In particular, I will outline the current position in respect of Ballygarvan national school, Ballygarvan, County Cork. The modernisation of the facilities in our existing building stock, like the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth, presents a significant challenge. The Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of school buildings and ensure that appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.
All applications for capital funding are assessed in the Department of Education and Science's modernisation and policy unit. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need in each case, based on the demographics of the area, any proposed housing developments, the condition of the buildings and the capacity of the proposed site, etc. This process ultimately leads to the determination of an appropriate accommodation solution. As part of the process, projects are assigned band ratings under the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects. The criteria in question were devised following consultation with the education partners. 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 each project. In other words, a proposed building project moves through the system in a manner that is commensurate with the band rating assigned to it.
There are four band ratings, of which band 1 is the highest and band 4 the lowest. Band 1 projects, for example, involve the provision of buildings where none currently exist but where there is a high demand for pupil places. Band 4 projects, by contrast, involve the provision of desirable but not necessarily urgent or essential facilities, such as libraries and sports halls.
The proposed development at Ballygarvan national school has been assigned a band rating of 1.1, which is the highest rating possible and reflects the need for a new school in this instance. The brief for this project involves the provision of a new 16-classroom school building. The schedule of accommodation for the new school will include a 195 sq. m general purpose room, a library and resource area, a suite of special education tuition rooms and ancillary accommodation, including a staff room and a principal's office. The Deputy will be aware that the project was included in the recent announcement of projects to commence architectural planning. A suitable site comprising three plots of land was identified for the new school building in Ballygarvan. It was originally intended that the Department would acquire the three plots of land. Late last year, however, the Department agreed a proposal by the patron of the school that the Diocese of Cork and Ross would acquire the necessary plots of land. I understand that the diocesan office has been actively engaged in finalising the acquisition. I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that as the contracts will be agreed by the vendors and the diocese, the Minister has had no formal involvement in such discussions. I understand, however, that the council members last night voted to approve the sale of council lands to the diocese and that the diocesan office is currently awaiting formal confirmation of this decision. The Department will proceed with the appointment of a design team once the diocese is in a position to confirm acquisition of the site.
I again thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the current position regarding the school building project for Ballygarvan national school, County Cork.