Wednesday, 2 July 2008
I speak on behalf of St. Phelim's national school, Leiter, Bailieborough, County Cavan, the roll number for which has been provided with the motion.
St. Phelim's national school got a welcome new classroom and resource room under the devolved scheme in 2007, for which it was grant-aided, and additional funding in July 2007. In March 2008 the architects sent a letter to the board of management of the school which outlined further unseen emergency works needed to bring the building up to building regulation and health and safety standards, particularly, in relation to septic tank, waste water treatment and percolation area. The letter identified a number of items, three of which I will outline, but there are also serious health and safety issues.
There is a need to provide a new waste water treatment system and percolation area. The current septic tank is not large enough to cope with the capacity of the existing school and the new extension. It is quickly filling up and overflowing onto site and playground area in wet weather. For health and safety reasons, a new large waste water treatment system must be installed. There is currently no percolation area for the septic tank. When the tank overflows it pollutes surrounding ground water. A new percolation system also needs to be installed along with the new waste water treatment system. It is a shocking situation that needs immediate rectification.
There is a need to provide non-slip floor covering in existing toilets and to replace the existing urinal. The gravity of that matter does not need elaboration in terms of health and safety.
Another item on the list from the architect, who comes from a reputable firm of architects, seeks the replacement of sanitary ware. The existing sanitary urinals in the toilet are leaking and the sinks in classrooms, where new hot water taps need to be installed, will need to be replaced with new sanitary ware.
A number of other areas need to be dealt with. There is a need for double glazed external windows in all areas of the school, the existing flat roof is leaking and causing a problem, internal ceiling soffits on the flat roof need to be insulated, new electric hot water heaters need to be mounted properly, and fire compliance electrical works are needed. From a reputable firm of architects I present a critical list of the unavoidable extra improvements needed.
I acknowledge the provision of the new classroom and resource room. The critical list of improvements needed arises from a huge population bulge in that area, as a consequence of a migration from Dublin and a new developing population in that area. These are health and safety issues. I accept the bona fides of the Minister of State in these areas. However, I do not think the Minister of State, his officials or any of us have discretion on this issue. There is a compelling need for these improvements. I do not raise the matter lightly. I have been approached by the management of the school, concerned parents and the contractor on the job who said the school is not sustainable in its present form.
I am pleased to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, to the House. I thank my colleague, Senator O'Reilly, for sharing time and commend him on raising this matter on the Adjournment.
I am glad to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution on the need to provide additional funding towards essential improvement works at St. Phelim's national school in Bailieborough. My colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, made strong representations in support of the permanent accommodation scheme 2007 application submitted to the Department of Education and Science by the board of management. Thankfully, that application was successful and the building project is under way at the school, funded under that scheme. I am aware my colleague has made representations to the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, in regard to obtaining additional funding to carry out improvement works, so eloquently outlined by Senator O'Reilly. Those works should be undertaken at the same time as the substantial building project that is currently under way.
I ask the Minister of State to consider the provision of additional funding based on the essential works that need to be carried out, as outlined by Senator O'Reilly who has my support in this regard. I urge the Minister of State, through his good offices, to progress the application as soon as possible.
I thank the Senators for raising the matter as it gives me an opportunity to outline to the House the Department's position regarding the allocation of funding to St. Phelim's national school, Bailieborough, County Cavan. The management authorities of the school applied and were approved for funding under the 2007 permanent accommodation scheme to provide additional accommodation at the school. A grant of €180,000 was originally sanctioned to enable the school to extend the existing school building. A further €26,617 was approved on appeal by the school.
The Department moved towards a model of devolved funding, responsibility and authority, as appropriate for smaller building projects-refurbishments, directly to school management authorities in 2003 with the introduction on a pilot basis of the devolved small schools and permanent accommodation schemes. Due to the positive feedback from schools, the schemes were extended to include additional schools in subsequent years. The permanent accommodation scheme allows boards of management to address their accommodation and building priorities with a guaranteed amount of funding and gives boards of management control of the building project. The intention of the scheme is to provide funding to schools to enable them to undertake wanted building projects. The scheme is not intended to leave schools with significant fundraising needs but for the school to tailor the scope of capital works commissioned to the available funding. A central tenet of the scheme is that the schools granted discretion and funding must equally accept responsibility for prioritisation, adherence to statutory regulations, control of costs and ensure value for money. The decision on whether to continue participation in the scheme or to drop out if the scope of build is more than the funding envelope permits is a matter for each school authority.
The authorities of St. Phelim's national school accepted the grant offer and returned a form of undertaking agreeing to comply with the requirements of the scheme. The school authorities submitted an appeal for significant additional funding, which was considered by the Department. However, in line with the original intention of the scheme, it was considered that the school should be encouraged to complete the project within the funding envelope provided. In the current economic climate and with considerable demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to entertain such significant increases in the amounts grant aided to schools. It is the responsibility of the school authorities to manage the resources allocated to them to ensure maximum value for money and to control costs. The board of management should take the necessary steps to ensure the scope of the works undertaken matches the funding allowed.
I regret that the response is not more favourable on this occasion, but I am sure Senators will agree it is important that we ensure that grant aid is managed prudently. As the Senators may be aware, a total of €586 million will be spent under the Department's school building programme this year alone. It is important to ensure that costs are kept under control in the construction of school buildings and that those responsible ensure value for money is achieved for the taxpayer. In that way, we can ensure completion of the maximum number of projects from within the funds available for the school building programme under the current national development plan.
I again thank the Senators for giving me the opportunity to outline the current position to the House.
I am very disappointed with the response. In the school in question the building work is not discretionary, it is a matter of health and safety. That is not a good signal to send to children or their parents. I have been approached by the entire community. My colleague in the area, councillor Sean McKiernan, informed me that parents are very angry and find the situation unsustainable. If we do not provide adequate health and safety for children in schools what signal are we sending? We cannot leave it up to them to protect themselves. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, to reconsider. I will not go on at length in deference to the Leas-Chathaoirleach and my colleague, Senator McFadden, who wishes to raise another matter but I reserve the right to continue my campaign. I appeal to the Minister of State to re-examine the matter. I take his point about the management of money but we cannot allow children to be at risk next September.