Tuesday, 13 December 2005
Schools Building Projects.
I welcome the Minister to the House. It is his second time taking an Adjournment matter on education from me. I will not complain this time. On the last occasion, I was quite irate about the treatment of the Carlow autism group, which I am pleased has been resolved.
This issue is clear-cut. The Minister will be well aware of the Carlow vocational school in the Kilkenny Road. While the building is approximately 30 years old, it is a poor quality building and requires major refurbishment. When a costanalysis of the project was carried out, it was discovered that it would cost almost 90% of what a brand new school building would cost. In 2001, it was decided, correctly, to build a brand new school to the left of the existing school, where the football pitches are situated. When it was built, the current school would be demolished and the football pitches would be located there. This made sense from every point of view.
Since then, the project appears to have died a death and nothing has happened. The Carlow People carried a front page story about the new school in 2001, which created a huge expectation. It is now December 2005 and we are none the wiser. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the position because the staff are getting frustrated as a result of a lack of information and clarity.
I pose the simple question, will the provision of a new school be approved? That is all those concerned want to know. If the answer to that question is positive, when will the new school be built?
It is always a pleasure to deal with an issue relating to Carlow. I have borrowed part of it, so the speak, for the moment. I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science for her inability to be here, but I understand she is not the only person who was to be here who is not here, and I will deal with that later.
I would like to point out that modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task given the legacy of decades of underinvestment in this important area of education, as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth such as Carlow. Nevertheless, since taking office, the Government has shown a sincere determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure that the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum and, more to point, it has allocated the necessary funding. The Government progressively increased funding for the school modernisation programme in recent years to achieve its goal with an aggregate total of almost €2 billion allocated for this purpose since 1998, the largest investment programme in the history of the State at this level of education.
Since the beginning of the year the Department of Education and Science has made a number of announcements relating to the school building and modernisation programme. This year alone, €270 million will be allocated to primary schools and €223 million to post-primary schools for building works. This represents an increase on the 2004 allocation. The list of projects approvedto date includes: 122 large-scale projects to proceed to tender and construction over a 12 to 15 month period; 97 projects under the small schools initiative; 75 projects under the permanent accommodation initiative; 140 temporary accommodation projects; 43 projects authorised to enter design phase; 741 small-scale projects under the summer works scheme; and 143 projects to progress through architectural planning. In addition, 23 new post-primary schools and four new primary schools will be provided under a major expansion of the Government's public private partnership programme 2006 to 2009.
Turning to Carlow vocational school, in common with all projects, the school's application was assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects and it was assigned a band 2 rating. The project is in the early stages of architectural planning. The answer to the question asked by Senator Browne is positive. During this process meetings were held between representatives of the County Carlow Vocational Educational Committee, the school's design team and officials in the school building section of the Department of Education and Science. The schedules of accommodation were prepared for a long-term projected enrolment of 750 pupils. The current enrolment at the school exceeds this figure. Therefore, officials in the school planning section are re-evaluating the long-term projected enrolment for the school. This re-evaluation is being carried out in the context of an overall examination of educational provision at primary and post-primary levels in Carlow town. Factors under consideration include demographic trends, current and projected enrolments, recent and planned housing developments and the capacity of existing schools to meet the demand for places.
When this examination has been completed, the Department will bring forward plans as to how best the primary and post-primary school accommodation needs of the area might be met into the future taking the proposed building project for Carlow vocational school into account. Progression of the project will be considered in the meantime in the context of the school building and modernisation programme from 2006 onwards. I apologise for the Minister not being able to be here and I thank the Senator for raising this issue.
I forgot to mention that Carlow vocational school in involved in the delivery of a number of PLC courses. I was amazed to learn yesterday that it has the largest number of PLC students in the country. I forget the exact number involved. Those students are currently accommodated in prefabs at the back of the main building.I urge the Minister to use his influence in the Department of Education and Science to ensure that a new school would be approved for Carlow vocational school.
I will convey the Senator's wishes to the Minister.
Am I not to reply to a further Adjournment matter on the nitrates directive?