Thursday, 29 January 2009
Schools Building Projects
I listened with interest to the debate on the Electoral (Amendment) Bill and the wonderful thing that is democracy. The essence of a healthy, thriving democracy must be the level of trust which exists between those who are elected and those who elect. While that trust is in general healthily maintained in Galway East, there is a danger that it may be about to break down, particularly in an area of south Galway which was given a commitment a couple of weeks before the general election that a new 700 pupil, co-educational second level school would be provided in Kinvara to serve the people of the area.
This commitment was given in May 2007. In January 2008, the Commission on School Accommodation, which had been requested by the Minister to establish whether there was sufficient need for a new second level school in the area, submitted its report to the Minister. It concluded that there was definitely a need for a new co-educational post-primary school, with a capacity of approximately 800 students, to be provided in the environs of Kinvara to serve the whole of south Galway. It stated the school would be required for the 2012-13 school year to coincide with the planned closure of Seamount College.
In a response to the report, given to me in the House on 24 April last, the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, stated it was her intention that the school would be built. She indicated that the Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of the Department on the acquisition of school sites, was being requested to source a suitable site for the school in question. As we approach the first anniversary of the date on which that commitment was given, I hope the Minister of State will inform me that significant progress has been made on the acquisition of a site.
South Galway has a serious need for a new second level school. The Sisters of Mercy have been very co-operative in this matter and have given a commitment to keep open Seamount College until the 2012-13 school year. Unfortunately, this commitment does not extend beyond that date. It is possible, therefore, that in three years the second level school will close without a replacement being available. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply.
I thank the Senator for raising the important matter of a second level school in Kinvara as it provides an opportunity to outline to the House the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and the current position regarding the provision of a new second level school in Kinvara, County Galway.
Modernising facilities in our building stock and the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth is a significant challenge and one which the Minister intends will be among his priorities. The Government has dramatically increased investment in the school building programme to almost €581.3 million this year. Almost €4.5 billion will be invested in schools during the lifetime of the national development plan. This is an unprecedented level of capital investment which reflects the commitment of the Government to continue its programme of sustained investment in primary and post-primary schools.
This programme will underpin a particular emphasis on the delivery of additional school places in rapidly developing areas, while continuing to develop on the Government's commitment to delivering improvements in the quality of existing primary and post-primary accommodation throughout the country.
The position regarding the provision of a new second level school in the northern environs of the area referred to is as follows. As Senator Cannon indicated, the Commission on School Accommodation conducted a survey of school accommodation in the area to determine the location of the proposed post-primary school and identify other locations where additional school places may be required over the next five to ten years. The commission, as the Senator noted, published its report in January 2008. It recommended that a co-educational post-primary school for circa 800 students should be provided in the northern environs of the area in question.
When a new school has been approved a number of procedures and processes must be undertaken and these can take some time to complete. The main stages are as follows: the identification and acquisition of a suitable site; design of the building; application for and granting of planning permission; invitation to seek tenders; and construction. The further progression of the proposed project, including the acquisition of a site, for the school will be considered in the context of the capital budget available to the Department for school buildings generally. In light of many competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time.
Senator Cannon expressed concerns arising from the proposed closure of Seamount College, Kinvara. With this proposal in mind, in November 2008 officials from the Department met the trustees of the college to discuss the provision of a new school. Arising from these discussions the Department wrote to the trustees requesting their views on the possibility of extending the deadline for the school closure until a timeframe for developing a new school can be determined in light of the current economic climate and-or on whether the trustees would consider the possibility of leasing the buildings to the Department for the operation of a school. The Minister has been advised that this request is being considered by the trustees.
The Minister conveys his thanks to the Senator for affording him the opportunity to outline to the House the current position regarding the provision of a new second level school in Kinvara, County Galway.