Seanad debates

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

10:00 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Conor Lenihan.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State. The issue I raise is the long delay in the commencement of building works for an extension at St. Kieran's national school, Baylin, Athlone. Baylin is a beautiful, perfectly manicured village which serves as a suburb of Athlone. It also has large numbers of one-off housing. The school, which has two classrooms of less that 40 square metres, applied for an extension four years ago to accommodate a general purpose room, classrooms, an office and a multi-purpose room. It is essential that a school of the size of Baylin national school has a multi-purpose room to accommodate dentists, general practitioners and many others who visit to provide care for pupils. Children are currently being seen in the staffroom which is completely unacceptable.

The population of Baylin continues to grow and the school will have a combined class of 35 children next year. Major remedial works are needed to repair leaking roofs and so forth. When will the contract for the construction of a new extension commence? The school has been given an undertaking that the extension will be built. For how long will the Government allow the shameful delay in the works to continue? Four years is much too long to wait. The extension is not a luxury but an urgent necessity, including from a health and safety perspective.

For the past four weeks, pupils at Baylin national school have not been able to participate in physical activity owing to poor weather conditions. This is outrageous and I await a response from the Minister of State who I am sure is all too familiar with the school.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Mary Coughlan, who is unfortunately unable to come to the House.

In April 2008, Baylin national school applied to the Department for an extension and refurbishment project. The school has a staffing level of a principal and four mainstream teachers. It also has the services of a resource teacher. Its accommodation consists of four mainstream permanent classrooms, one prefabricated mainstream classroom and some ancillary accommodation. The school's enrolment at 30 September 2009 was 127 pupils. While enrolments at the school have increased modestly over the past four years, the school has not experienced the rapid increase in enrolments that have occurred in other schools.

The assessment process for capital funding determines the extent and type of accommodation needed based on population growth, demographic trends, current and projected enrolments, recent and planned housing developments and the capacity of existing schools to meet demand for pupil places. As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under the prioritisation criteria to which I referred. 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 them, in other words, a building project moves through the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it and as it is ready to proceed.

The application from Baylin national school has been assigned a band rating of 2.1, reflecting the fact that the standard of its existing accommodation is such that it needs to be extended and refurbished. The progression of all large-scale building projects, including the project in question, from initial design stage through to construction will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme for 2011 and subsequent years. However, in light of competing demands on the capital budget, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project for the school at this time.

Senator McFadden will appreciate that it is not possible to advance all the projects required at the same time. I assure her, however, that all school building projects, including that for Baylin national school, will be advanced incrementally through the system over time and as the necessary resources become available. I thank the Senator for allowing me the opportunity to outline the position regarding the school.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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The roof of the prefabricated building has a leak through which water gushes into the room. As I noted, there are 131 children on the school roll as opposed to 127, the figure given by the Minister. I have my figure from the horse's mouth and the number is increasing. I dispute the Minister of State's view that the school does not have sufficient numbers. Will the roof in the ridiculous prefabricated building be repaired or will the school have a new classroom built?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am not sure of the answer to the Senator's question. I advise her to raise with the Department the significant difference between the figure available to her and that provided by the Department.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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My figure was provided by the principal of the school.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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The Department's records suggest the correct figure is 127. It would be helpful if the Senator were to arrange a meeting with the Tánaiste or departmental officials to clarify the numbers.