Wednesday, 24 September 2014
Topical Issue Debate
Schools Building Projects Status
I am delighted to have the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, here, as she is very aware of this issue and she will relay the seriousness of the issue to the Minister. I thank her for attending.
We want Cloonakilla national school at Bealnamulla, which is the Monksland area of County Roscommon, to be included in the schools building programme. There is urgent need for funding to progress the new school project at Cloonakilla national school. This south Roscommon school is located in an area with the fastest growing population in the midlands, and as far back as 2006, the Department acknowledged that enrolment projections at Cloonakilla national school indicated the need for a 16-teacher school. The Department subsequently acquired a greenfield site a year later for the development. A design team was appointed in 2011 and architectural planning commenced. The project has reached stage 2(b) of architectural planning, an advanced point which includes securing planning permission, a fire certificate, a disability access certificate and preparation of tender documents. Currently, many pupils are being accommodated in prefabs, with the school having to turn away new enrolments this year because of capacity issues. I understand a new portakabin joined the five others on the one-acre site in August.
I have called to the school on two occasions and I met the principal, Ms Mary O'Rourke. In my time going around to schools, I have not seen anything quite like this, with queues of parents outside. I ask the Minister to do everything possible to move on this issue. The school services the Monksland and Bealnamulla area, which has seen enrolments increase from 266 last year to 310 pupils this year. The school is turning pupils away. I ask the Minister to see if we can get the funding for this school as soon as possible.
I am taking this issue on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, and I will convey the Deputy's concerns to her. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides the opportunity to clarify the current position of the major capital project for Cloonakilla national school. The Deputy is aware of the demographic challenge facing the education system in the coming years. Primary enrolments, which have already risen substantially in recent years, are projected to rise by over 36,000 pupils by 2016, and they are set to continue to rise, with a likely peak at around 574,000 pupils to be catered for in 2018. This compares with some 526,422 pupils enrolled in primary schools for the 2012 and 2013 school year. It is vital, therefore, that there is sufficient school accommodation to cope with these pupil enrolments.
In order to meet the needs of our growing population of school-going children, the Department must establish new schools as well as extending or replacing a number of existing schools in areas where demographic growth has been identified. The delivery of these new schools, together with extension projects to meet future demand, will be the main focus of the Department's budget for the coming year. The Department would seek to provide additional accommodation to meet demographic growth but it would also aim to ensure maximum use of existing school accommodation. A priority, therefore, for the Department is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking places.
For school planning purposes, Cloonakilla national school is contained in the Athlone school feeder area, which has been identified by the Department as an area requiring increased accommodation to meet demographic demand over the period between now and 2019. A major school building project at Coosan national school has already been announced and is being progressed as part of the Department's five-year construction plan to meet this demand. An additional project is also being progressed through the Department's architectural planning process in respect of Cloonakilla national school. The project at Cloonakilla comprises a new 16-classroom school with ancillary accommodation.
This project has reached an advanced stage of architectural planning, stage 2(b) which includes securing planning permission, fire certificate, disability access certificate and the preparation of tender documents. All relevant statutory approvals have been obtained and the design team is working on the preparation of the tender documentation. The design team expects to be in a position to submit the stage 2(b) report to the Department for review in the coming weeks.
Due to competing demands on the Department's capital budget, it is not possible to progress all projects within the Department's building programme to construction concurrently. However, the project for Cloonakilla national school is now well placed to progress to tender and construction in the event that further funding becomes available to the Department in the future. I hope this is of some help to the Deputy. I will relay his concerns on this issue.
I thank the Minister of State for her reply. It was not the reply that I expected but if some further funding becomes available, this is a needy case. The parents and teachers in that area are at their wits’ end wondering why their school did not get the go-ahead. I am sure there are schools all over the country competing for funding. In my constituency this school is crying out for funding. I would like to see this being progressed. We have a greenfield site with Portakabins, which does not make sense. If funding becomes available I would appreciate if this school were put at the top of the agenda. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House today. I wish the new Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy O’Sullivan, well in her job. She is doing an excellent job.
Maybe the public does not understand this but while some schools have progressed to a certain point, others may not be as advanced or may not get planning permission or the other things they need. It is important that they are ready to take advantage when space becomes available on the list.