Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Schools Building Projects.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak about the plight of the parents, teachers and pupils of Rathcormac national school in County Cork. The need for a new school building has been at the top of the agenda for the local community in Rathcormac for many years. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, for coming to the House. I will give him some background information. A new school was built in the parish of Rathcormac in 1948 to cater for the children of what was then a small community in north-east Cork. Times have changed since then, as one would expect. The population of the village and parish of Rathcormac has increased from a few hundred to over 2,000 as a result of planning and zoning decisions taken by Cork County Council over the past decade or so. Rathcormac national school, which has 210 pupils, is based in a building that was designed for a far smaller number. The school uses nine prefabs. I understand it is proposed that a tenth prefab will come on stream in the near future. The annual cost of the prefabs is almost €100,000 - surely there is a moral in that. The local community in Rathcormac has been seeking a new school in a serious fashion for more than a decade. No progress has been made with the school building even though the Department of Education and Science is paying almost €100,000 per annum to rent prefabs. The Department agrees that a new building is needed. A site has been found and paid for, but it remains idle. I suggest that the Department should take every possible step to make progress with this project and thereby provide the community with the new school it so badly needs. From a planning perspective, the Department of Education and Science must take note of population trends. When development in a village that previously consisted of a main street, two local authority estates and one small private estate explodes to the level of having 800 or 900 houses, we must recognise the need for a response from the perspective of the Department of Education and Science. The key focus must be the high rent paid annually for prefabs, particularly during the past decade. At the time of the 1997 general election the provision of a new school for Rathcormac was at the top of the agenda in the parish. Strong commitments to provide it were made at the time. Promises were made again in advance of the 2002 and 2007 general elections. The community is anxious, disappointed and angry that no real progress has been made. I accept a site has been purchased but that makes it even more unbelievable that it has not been possible to move this project to the next phase.
I am speaking on behalf of the community of Rathcormac, including the more than 200 pupils in the school, the teachers, parents and future parents and pupils, in pointing out that it is time to move on from the 1948 school building, to build on the site acquired, to end the waste of money on rented prefabs and to provide a school that is fit for the Rathcormac community in the years ahead.
I am sure the Minister of State has driven through the village, which is on the road from Fermoy to Cork. It is a changed village having regard to the number of houses that have recently been built there. At a minimum a new school is required for the community. We discussed rural and community development some time ago in this House. School provision is at the core of such development. The people of Rathcormac should not only demand but expect their school to be provided in the very near future. I look forward to the Minister of State's response and I appeal him to ensure that this urgently needed development is progressed at the earliest possible stage.
Seán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, who unfortunately cannot be present. I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the Seanad the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and also to outline the current position in regard to Rathcormac national school, Rathcormac, County Cork, roll No. 17609N.
Modernising facilities in our existing building stock as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth is a significant challenge. The Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.
All applications for capital funding are assessed in the planning and building 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. The original criteria were revised and refined in 2004.
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, while a band four project makes provision of desirable but not necessarily urgent or essential facilities, such as a library or new sports hall.
The proposed new school building for Rathcormac national school has been assigned a band 2.2 rating. This is in line with the level of need presenting where there is a deficit of mainstream accommodation and the deficit constitutes a substantial proportion of the school's overall accommodation. The brief for this Rathcormac national school project is to provide a new 12 classroom generic repeat design school building, including a general purpose hall and ancillary accommodation, on a greenfield site. The project is at an advanced stage of architectural planning.
As the Senator will be aware, in February the Minister announced details of 43 major building projects to proceed to tender and construction and 25 high priority projects to commence architectural planning. He will understand that it is not possible to advance all projects at the same time. It was not possible to include the project for Rathcormac national school in this announcement. Therefore, it is unlikely that it will be progressed further in 2009. Given the competing demands on the Department's capital budget, it is not possible at this stage to be precise about when this project will go to construction.
However, the progression of all large-scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction is dependent on the prioritisation of competing demands on the funding available under the Department's capital budget. The proposed building project for Rathcormac national school, Rathcormac, County Cork will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme for 2010 and subsequent years.
The allocation for school buildings in 2009 is almost €614 million. This represents a significant investment in the school building and modernisation programme. This level of funding for the building programme, at a time of great pressure on public finances, is a sign of the very real commitment of this Government to investing in school infrastructure and will permit the continuation of progress in the overall improvement of school accommodation.
I thank the Senator again for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position regarding the school building project for Rathcormac national school, Rathcormac, County Cork.