Seanad debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2005

7:00 pm

Michael Brennan (Progressive Democrats)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and acknowledge the capital spending on schools in County Limerick, especially the fine building works completed in Adare, in Shountrade national school and Our Lady's Abbey national school.

The Minister of State and her officials are well aware of the special circumstances of the application by the board of management of St. Nicholas's Church of Ireland national school for the proposed building project adjacent to the Augustinian Priory in Adare. That is a listed building built in the 1300s and restored in the 18th century by the Earl of Dunraven who, in 1807, gave the building to the Church of Ireland as a place of worship for the community of Adare.

The existing St. Nicholas's national school is part of and adjacent to this church. The board of management has acquired a site from the Dunraven family for a proposed new building project. Fund-raising is ongoing and the community supports the project. I ask the Minister of State to take all the circumstances into consideration and ask the Department to fund this new building project to meet the needs of our community in Adare at this historic location.

Síle de Valera (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for affording me the opportunity of outlining to the House the position of the Department of Education and Science regarding the allocation of funding for schools building projects.

St. Nicholas's school is currently accommodated in classrooms in the Augustinian Abbey building and a prefabricated unit adjacent to the main building. It has an enrolment of approximately 65 pupils and staffing of a principal teacher, two assistant teachers and a resource teacher.

As the Senator is aware, my Department is moving towards a model of devolving funding, responsibility and authority as appropriate for building projects directly to school management authorities. Devolving of funding to school management authorities allows them to have control of their projects, assists in moving projects more quickly to tender and construction and can also deliver better value for money.

This particular devolved initiative was originally introduced on a pilot basis for 20 schools in the 2003 school building programme and, due to the positive feedback from schools, was extended in the school building programmes of 2004 and 2005. While appropriate for many schools, the Department is aware that the devolved initiative is not necessarily suitable for all national schools seeking to refurbish their school building or to build new accommodation. It is not the intention of the scheme to leave schools with massive fund-raising requirements. Rather, the level of funding should determine the scope of works undertaken. In some cases, however, the school site or building can be problematic. In others, the extent of the required work is too extensive for the funding available under the initiative.

In such situations, schools have a number of choices. They can reduce the scope of intended works, fund-raise to cover the shortfall or withdraw from the scheme and be considered for inclusion in the mainstream school building programme in line with the project's priority band rating.

This school was offered a grant of €350,000 under the devolved initiative in 2004 to provide new accommodation. The board of management accepted the grant offered and proceeded with the architectural planning of the project.

The type of building that the board of management can construct is determined by the sensitive location and nature of the site. The school has received planning permission for a new school building subject to a number of conditions, including the requirement for all works to be supervised by a conservation architect and that a suitably-qualified archaeologist has to monitor all site works. The architectural planning of the building is currently at an advanced stage.

It is clear from the information supplied by the school to officials in my Department that the grant of €350,000 will not be sufficient to construct the building as currently designed. Officials from my Department met with the school authorities on 17 November to discuss this difficulty. The school has formally lodged an appeal for additional funding and officials from my Department will be in contact with the school shortly on this matter. I thank the Senator once again for raising this matter in the House.