Seanad debates

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

5:00 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter with the Minister of State agus cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I raised this matter on the Adjournment on 31 January. As I said then, St. Angela's school in Cork city has had meetings, engaged in a consultative process and promises have been made in respect of it. The school is concerned that it will not have a new school building and that the development plan has not been advanced or brought to a conclusion.

The school wishes to bring to a conclusion the purchase of the adjoining convent site, which is a key element of the building plan. The trustees have submitted all the legal documents to the Department and I am informed the sales process is now in the hands of the Chief State Solicitor's office. The trustees, their solicitors and the school are waiting for the sale to be concluded. When will the Department of Education and Science be in a position to conclude the sale of the convent site? From what I gather, the delay in the process is very much on the side of the Department and not on the side of the school.

There are 524 pupils in St. Angela's. Enrolments have been good, given that the school is in the inner city which has a wide catchment area. I was told by the former Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, in January that the extension and refurbishment project was at an early stage of architectural planning. What band rating has been assigned to the project?

The Ursuline order is prepared to sell the convent building and grounds to the Department to allow for a modern school to be built. In January this was being considered by the Department. Does such consideration and consultation take almost ten months? I hope we will get answers to these questions. There is an acceptance now that the extension and refurbishment of the school needs the decanting of the existing building. I hope we will get a positive reply from the Minister of State.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to this House the current position with regard to the proposed building project for St. Angela's school, St. Patrick's Hill, Cork city.

First, all applications for capital funding are assessed in the modernisation and policy unit of the Department. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings, site capacity, etc. leading ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution. As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects. These criteria were devised following consultation with the education partners.

Projects are selected for inclusion in the school building and modernisation programme on the basis of priority of need. This is reflected in the band rating assigned to a project. In other words, a proposed building project moves through the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it. There are four band ratings overall, of which band one is the highest and band four the lowest. Band one projects, for example, include the provision of buildings where none currently exists but there is a high demand for pupil places for typically rapidly developing areas, while a band four project provides desirable but not necessarily urgent or essential facilities. Each band rating has a number of sub-categories, which more specifically describes the type of works needed and the urgency attaching to them.

St. Angela's school is an all girls post primary school with a current enrolment of 524 pupils. Enrolments at the school have remained stable over the past five years. The extension-refurbishment project proposed for the school is at the early stages of architectural planning. Consistent with the approach I have outlined, the application was assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects and it has been assigned a band 2.1 rating. This reflects the fact that there is a deficit of accommodation, which represents a substantial or significant proportion of the school's overall accommodation needs. It also reflects the fact that an extensive refurbishment is needed.

The Department requested the design team to complete a schedule of accommodation based on 500 pupils giving consideration to the following: using the existing school building and site only; and using the existing school building and site and the St. Angela's Convent building and grounds. The design team concluded that to provide accommodation for a 500-pupil school, the convent building and grounds will be needed. The order is prepared to sell these to the Department to facilitate the expansion of the school on its current site. The order is also prepared to cede the current school building and site to the Department.

Owing to the level of demand on the Department's capital budget, it is not possible to provide an indicative timeframe as to when the site and building purchase can be made. As with all large-scale capital projects, the progression of this project from site acquisition and initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme.

The allocation for school buildings in 2009 is €581 million, which represents a significant investment in the school building and modernisation programme. This level of funding, at a time of great pressure on the public finances, is a sign of the Government's real commitment to investing in school infrastructure and it will permit the continuation of the enormous progress made under the last national development plan when more than 7,800 school building projects were completed. The Government is looking forward to building on this progress with an unprecedented allocation of €4.5 billion under the current national development plan.

I thank Senator Buttimer again for raising this matter and assure him that progress on the proposed project for St. Angela's will be made commensurate with the priority attaching to it and as soon as the requisite funding is available. As I am anxious to get to the Dáil in time for the division, I will talk to the Senator subsequently if he has supplementary questions.