Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 June 2004

7:00 am

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, to the House. I would like to raise the simple matter of the excellent educational facility offered at the Presentation College secondary school at Askea in Carlow town. The excellence of the facilities is not matched by the level of expertise and care given to the students, unfortunately. The school is at stage 5 of the planning process, but it is stuck in band 3. It wants its band rating to be increased so that it can guarantee that the building works will commence this year. The bill of quantities has been completed, the tendering documents have been submitted and planning permission has been secured for the building programme. The project is ready to start as soon as it gets the final nod from the building unit of the Department of Education and Science.

The existing school building, which was constructed in the 1980s, is modern, but it is out of date in certain respects as a consequence of advancements in the building industry. It is not wheelchair-accessible in the same manner as a modern building. The school has some health and safety issues. It does not have a PE hall at present. The children are forced to walk a mile to a nearby sports centre, which poses real risks to them and is unsatisfactory for them and their teachers. It means that PE classes often have to be cancelled because of bad weather. Secondary schools in Ireland deserve to have their own dedicated gym. The school has major plans to renovate the buildings to modern standards, including wheelchair accessibility.

Everything has been done in respect of this project. Planning permission has been secured, all the documents have been submitted and the school has worked closely with parents, teachers and children as well as public representatives. I attended a constructive meeting in the school a few months ago with the local Fianna Fáil Deputy, M.J. Nolan. The school asked us to try to apply as much pressure as possible to ensure that the project is started next year. There was grave disappointment when the building programme was announced this year and the school discovered its project was not to proceed.

I urge the Minister of State to ask the Minister for Education and Science to write the cheque and send it to Carlow. I will even bring it down myself and save him the cost of a stamp. I hope the school building programme can commence, even towards the end of this year if possible, so that it can be in place by 2005.

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it gives me the opportunity, on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, to outline to the House the position of the Department of Education and Science regarding the proposed building project for the Presentation College in Carlow. A major extension project for the Presentation College is listed in section 8 of the Department's school building programme for 2004. As the Senator has outlined, it is currently at stage 5 in the architectural planning process and has a band 3 rating. The indicative timeframe to tender for this project is post-2004.

As the Department of Education and Science announced when publishing the capital programme, a key strategy for schools building projects going forward will be grounded on the budget day announcement of multi-annual allocations for capital investment in education projects. All projects that are not going to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme will be re-evaluated with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual building programme from 2005 onwards. This re-evaluation will include the project at the Presentation College, Carlow. This strategy will provide better clarity for schools in terms of when they can expect their projects to proceed.

As the first step in the review process, the Department held consultations with the education partners on the prioritisation criteria used for large scale building projects. The purpose of these consultations is to ensure that the criteria have optimum precision and are fully tuned to meeting the priority accommodation needs of the primary and post-primary sectors. The Department expects to be in a position to make a further announcement in this matter later this year.

In the meantime, to alleviate difficulties at the Presentation College, I am pleased to inform the Senator that the Department recently approved grant aid in the amount of almost €58,500 towards the cost of two prefabricated classrooms at the school. The Department is confident that the multi-annual approach to the school building programme and its underpinning principles will provide a mechanism for ensuring that capital investment in school infrastructure will not alone be targeted at those schools most in need but that it will also be made in the most open and transparent way possible.

I thank Senator Browne for raising the matter in this House.