Wednesday, 7 March 2007
Schools Building Projects.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this item and I thank the Minister of State for taking it in the House.
In a debate earlier I mentioned the slow pace of progress in dealing with applications from national schools throughout the country and the response from the Department of Education and Science, particularly the planning section. I instanced the case of Killimor national school, Ballinasloe, County Galway. That case is a classic example of where indecision has led to frustration on the part of the board of management, the staff and the parents of the students attending Killimor national school. This project is eight years in progress but no progress as yet is indicated from the Department.
The first indication was that the Department would provide extra facilities to extend the existing school. That was abandoned approximately three years later. The Department then indicated it would examine the sites that were available. It selected a site and had full investigation of the site planned but after an extensive period of approximately two and a half years it decided the site was unsuitable. It has recently decided to go back to the original site for the construction of a new school. I do not believe any board of management or other staff group would have had the patience to listen to the reasoning behind the Department's dithering in this instance.
While all of that was going on, completely oblivious to those in the planning section of the Department of Education and Science, there were serious consequences from the inadequacies of the facilities for the provision of proper education to the children who needed it in Killimor national school. A special disadvantaged class for approximately 17 children was established. The school had to make provision also for the special needs children in the school. During all that time every space in the existing school, which was totally inadequate for the initial enrolment, was provided to those children at great cost and inconvenience. To its credit, the school has given first class primary level education to the students involved.
I ask the Minister for a definitive statement with regard to a timescale to ensure that everybody can work to a programme which will eliminate the terrible situation in Killimor. With the best wishes in the world we know the students and staff will have to endure the current conditions for several years before they move into the new school premises proposed for the area. I ask the Minister to expedite the application and that firm dates of commencement and completion would be given. There is an expanding population and an increasing school enrolment year after year — the records show that — in this national school and it deserves an urgent response from the Minister and the Department.
I thank Senator Burke for giving me the opportunity of outlining to the House the position of the Department of Education and Science regarding Killimor national school, Ballinasloe, County Galway. In 2005, the Department of Education and Science announced details of 89 primary schools and 33 post-primary schools that were allowed to progress to tender and construction. Killimor national school was among the primary schools listed in that announcement.
Initially, the school management undertook to identify a suitable site for the school and to carry out negotiations for its acquisition subject to its subsequent purchase by the Department. On that basis the school applied for planning permission for a new six classroom school and it was the intention of the Department to proceed to tender and construction as soon as site conveyancing was complete. Subsequently, however, the acquisition of the site ran into difficulty.
The acquisition of the site for the school will now be concluded by the Office of Public Works, which generally acts on behalf of the Department on site acquisitions for schools. The site comprises of one larger plot, the acquisition of which is currently at contract-conveyancing stage, and a smaller plot which is required for access and in the ownership of the local authority. The local authority has confirmed to the school management its willingness, subject to criteria, to transfer the requisite portion of lands to facilitate the school building and the OPW will shortly be contacting the local authority with a view to finalising arrangements.
In February 2005, representatives of the school attended a meeting in Tullamore organised by the building unit in the Department which outlined the steps a school should take to advance a building project through tender and construction phases. In November 2004, the school obtained planning permission for a new six classroom school and it is the Department's intention that this is the school that will be built once site conveyancing is completed.
In February 2007, a letter issued from the building unit to the board of management requesting a revised cost plan for the project plus an updated mechanical and electrical submission. Once this revised documentation is received and approved by the Department and the site acquisition finalised, the school will be given devolved authority to prepare tender documentation and to invite tenders prior to the commencement of construction.
I assure the Senator that the Department is fully committed to providing suitable high quality accommodation for Killimor national school at the earliest possible date. I again thank the Senator for raising this matter.