Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Adjournment Matters. - Schools Refurbishment.
After Longford, Tipperary is number two on the RAPID list and, although it relates to a different subject, the case I will make is very similar. The Cathaoirleach may be familiar with St. Ailbe's vocational school in Tipperary town. It is a fine school in the sense that the students and teachers do good work. However, they have to contend with what are really deplorable conditions. I am raising this on the Adjournment because it seems to be the most effective way to bring a matter that needs urgent remedial action to the attention of the Minister and his civil servants.
I do not wish to maintain that nothing has been done. A new fence around the school was provided last year because many people were clambering on the roof and it was not possible to solve the roof problems until the building was properly fenced off. Leakage and damp are affecting several of the schoolrooms and buckets need to be used on wet days. The school would not pass any health and safety inspection test. New buildings are not required, but extensive refurbishment of the building and of some of the elements in it is needed.
Provision of an effective dust extraction system is needed in the woodwork rooms. New equipment such as vices, replacement saw, workbenches and safe power supply sockets are required. I have seen all of these on more than one occasion. There is dampness in the floor, on the walls and on the ceilings, the paint on which can be seen peeling off in certain places. The toilets are in a deplorable condition. The staff room facilities are totally inadequate. A range of problems has been brought to the attention of the Department, in respect of which action is awaited.
There are three secondary schools in Tipperary town and the other schools have been attended to and have received considerable investment. St. Ailbe's vocational school among others caters for the least advantaged people in the town, which is disadvantaged, under the RAPID criteria. It is time that we put our money where our mouths are. We talk a great deal about disadvantage and I fully respect the Minister's priority in putting disadvantage at the top of his list. This is a prime case for him and his officials to consider. By any test, it is a school catering for disadvantaged people who deserve a chance and deserve the support of the Government.
Interdepartmental co-operation may be required as the school authorities have submitted a joint application with St. Michael's football club, and with the sports centre, for sports facilities. The excellent sports facility in the town, the Canon Hayes recreation centre, is heavily oversubscribed. Many of the schools are in one particular area and what is really needed is an extra facility which will take the overflow. That facility would be built on land adjacent to St. Ailbe's and could, perhaps, solve some of the problems in terms of toilet facilities, etc.
I thank Senator Mansergh for raising the issue and I apologise for the absence of the Minister.
St. Ailbe's vocational school is a co-educational school with a current enrolment of 388 pupils. It is one of three post-primary schools operating in Tipperary town, the others being St. Anne's secondary school and the Abbey school.
County Tipperary South Riding Vocational Educational Committee – the management authority of St. Ailbe's vocational school – applied to the Department of Education and Science for both additional accommodation and refurbishment of the existing accommodation at the school. In advance of making any major capital investment at the school, and consistent with standard practice within the Department of Education and Science, the long-term viability of the school must be assessed. This assessment is undertaken by the planning unit within the Department.
Accordingly, the application for additional accommodation and refurbishment of the existing school was referred to the Department's planning unit to assess the school's long-term viability. This assessment is currently underway and until this process is completed, substantial capital investment cannot be made at the school.
With regard to the improvement works I must point out that these are, in the first instance, a matter for the school authority. I am pleased to inform the House that, during the past five years, the Department of Education and Science has provided a total of €168,845.22 in capital funding for St. Ailbe's vocational school.
This money was expended on perimeter fencing, replacement ceilings, floors and heating, as pointed out by the Senator. Any additional urgent minor improvement works required to be undertaken at the school will be considered as part of the 2004 capital programme.
I assure the Senator that I will bring the points he made to the attention of the Minister.
The Seanad adjourned at 8.05 p.m. until 10.30p.m. on Wednesday, 25 June 2003.