Wednesday, 12 November 2014
Schools Building Projects Applications
Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an Aire as ucht bheith linn anseo anocht agus it cannot be said anyway that they are not getting their value for money out of the Minister of State. If ever a value for money audit is conducted on the number of Adjournment matters and debates she has taken in the Seanad, she would be at the top of the list.
Táim ag ardú ceist maidir le Gaelscoil Riabhach, Baile Locha Riach. This is a Gaelscoil in Loughrea, County Galway, which has made a request for a new school building. I understand it has made a formal application for a departmental review of whether it is a building project, as set out in the Department's three-year building plan, that merits inclusion in the rapid delivery projects. The board of management is extremely concerned that the school build will not go to construction in the 2015-16 school year and believes, for the following reasons, it needs to be included in the list of schools that are part of the rapid delivery project. Gaelscoil Riabhach was included in the ministerial announcement in December 2011 to progress to the construction of a 12 classroom school in 2015-16. Since that date, Galway County Council has assisted the Department in the identification and acquisition of a suitable site in the town for the school.
Sites were investigated through 2012 and a suitable site was identified in 2013. Negotiations failed at an advanced stage. I am informed that another suitable site has been identified and that negotiations are again at an advanced stage. However, even with the speediest expedition with contracts, four months for planning permission and sale would still be required. Following this, a tendering process would mean that it would be late 2015 before any construction might commence. If the project was included in the rapid delivery projects it would ensure an earlier commencement in construction and a project completion date prior to September 2016.
At present the school has 30 confirmed enrolments for September 2015 and 24 for September 2016. This is prior to its official enrolment period of December to January, during which it envisages an additional enrolment of at least ten children for each of the years. The board of management is tasked with planning for school improvement and has been working on the basis that a school building will be provided by September 2016. Additional accommodation was required last September due to the appointment of an administrative principal and this was declined by the Department. Additional accommodation will be required in September 2016 on its present site if the new building is not available. Leasing prefabricated buildings at that stage on a year-by-year basis will be expensive for the Department and will require major groundwork on the present temporary site.
At least three of the classrooms are inadequate for the provision of the primary school curriculum in a manner that does not compromise the health and safety of the students. In the past two years the school has implemented the Aistear programme and the volume of the classrooms is limiting its ability to provide this central aspect of the curriculum in a safe manner. By 2016 it envisages that it would be necessary to remove two of the four classrooms, which are less than 45 sq m. Its landlord, Coiste Dúiche, will remove the buildings but the leasing of two classrooms on short-term leases will require an application for additional funding from the Department. I would appreciate if the Minister of State would clarify the position and, in particular, if this application could be forwarded to the rapid delivery project section.
I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. I thank the Senator for raising the matter as it provides me with the opportunity to clarify the current position in regard to the major capital project for Gaelscoil Riabhach, Loughrea, County Galway.
The Senator will be aware of the demographic challenge facing the education system in the coming year. Primary enrolments, which have already risen substantially in recent years, are projected to rise by almost 37.000 pupils by 2016 and they are set to continue to rise, with a likely peak in 2019. In order to meet the needs of our growing population of school going children, the Department must establish new schools as well as extending or replacing a number of existing schools in areas where demographic growth has been identified.
The delivery of these new schools, together with the extension projects to meet future demand, will be the main focus of the Department's budget for the coming years. Loughrea, County Galway, has been identified as an area of demographic growth. In that context, the project to provide a new school for Gaelscoil Riabhach is included in my Department's five-year building plan and listed among those to proceed to construction in 2015-16.
The site acquisition for Gaelscoil Riabhach, Loughrea, is currently under way. The Senator may be aware that a memorandum of understanding between my Department and the County and City Managers Association was signed in 2012. This memorandum fosters increased levels of co-operation and formalises the local authorities' part in identifying and securing suitable sites for educational use. In that context, officials from my Department have been working very closely with officials from Galway County Council on securing a suitable site for a new school building for Gaelscoil Riabhach. I can confirm that a suitable site has been identified and the site acquisition process is at an advanced stage. However, as I am sure the Senator will appreciate, there are sensitivities associated with land acquisition which limits the information which can be provided. At this time I am not in a position to provide further information about the site acquisition.
In the interim, an application for office space was received from the Gaelscoil. However, it was advised that it was not possible to accede to its request in view of the general need to prioritise the provision of essential mainstream classrooms for demographic growth and the short-term need, given the inclusion of a new building for the Gaelscoil in the five-year plan. I wish to advise the Senator that, subject to no unforeseen issues arising, it is anticipated that the project for the Gaelscoil will be advanced into architectural planning with the aim of bringing the project to tender and construction as soon as possible. In that regard, the accommodation project brief for the new school building is currently being finalised and the Department will continue to liaise with the school authority on progress. I again thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline the current position in regard to the major capital project for Gaelscoil Riabhach, Galway.
I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive reply. She might relate to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, that there is a fear about slippage. If there is any slippage it will cost the Department more money, and that would be money down the drain. If it is feasible to include it in the rapid delivery project section under the school buildings unit it would be good because it seems everybody wants to try to meet the same deadline.
The building of a new school commenced quite near to where I live in April 2014. The children were in it by September. It was quite incredible to watch. Having the same structure and architectural drawings in place for six, eight, 12 or 16 classrooms works. The buildings are not prefabricated with sections being dropped in, rather, they are good quality school buildings with good environmental features. They are well placed and surrounded by good areas. I did not think it was possible to complete a building so quickly. It is a well designed, modern and cheerful building, all the things we expect for our children. Sometimes we forget that the building industry, like everything else in this world, has advanced considerably.