Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Schools Building Projects


7:00 pm

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I always appreciate the time he has taken when he comes to Athlone and the midlands in his role with responsibility for adult education.

The three schools about which I seek information regarding building projects are Coosan national school, Athlone Community College and Ballymahon Community College. Coosan national school is a 14-teacher national school on the outskirts of Athlone. Enrolment has expanded rapidly in recent years. As the Minister of State will be aware, Athlone is a gateway town the population of which is expected to double in coming years. The school has 248 pupils, which puts great demands on the physical structure of the school. The school has eight prefabs, some of which were closed for periods of time during the year due to vermin infestation which is appalling and unacceptable.

In January 2007, the Department approved a new school building with 14 classrooms and four auxiliary rooms. Although the design team was appointed, funding has yet to be sanctioned. While I am sure the Minister of State hears this throughout the country, this is very important for the pupils and teachers of the school. I ask him to clarify the position on the school.

Athlone Community College has 1,000 post-primary pupils. I have raised this matter on the Adjournment several times previously. It was with delight that I received a phone call today informing me that the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, has agreed to meet with the Oireachtas Members who represent Longford-Westmeath. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. While it might be pre-empting that meeting, I ask the Minister of State to ask him for clarification as to when we might have a commencement date for the building of the new school. As the Minister of State is aware, Athlone Community College has had very high academic and sporting achievements and has an holistic and caring manner. It caters for all pupils and especially for those with special needs.

There are great health and safety risks for pupils and teachers in Athlone Community College. There are serious issues with the roof and space is of serious concern. Windows cannot be opened and there are other problems. Land has been purchased by Westmeath VEC from Athlone Town Council. Considerable preliminary work has been done and a design has been put in place following consultation with parents and teachers. I ask the Minister of State to expedite the building.

Regarding Ballymahon Community College, I understand members of Longford VEC will meet the Minister on 9 July. I also look forward to that meeting. A grant of €1.3 million was allocated last year. In December 2007, the Department of Education and Science contacted the architect to stop all plans. Where is grant of €1.3 million? Has it been ring-fenced for the refurbishment of this school? There are 200 pupils receiving an excellent schooling. It has an ABA special unit, which is housed in a prefab. The old building is in a desperate state and I ask the Minister to give me clarification on this. These are three very worthy projects and obviously warrant urgent attention because they already have been approved by the Department of Education and Science. What is different this year compared to last year? I cannot accept it is all about money. The money is there. If not, is it gone somewhere else? In the interests of health and safety I ask that these three building projects be expedited urgently.


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