Seanad debates

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Commencement Matters

Sports Facilities Provision

10:30 am

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to raise the need for the Minister for Education and Skills to provide an update on the provision of sporting, recreational and physical education facilities at Balbriggan community college, Balbriggan, County Dublin.

Earlier this week, I visited Balbriggan community college with a number of parents, students and staff. It is a well-regarded secondary school with over 500 students but there are no PE facilities. In 2012, permission was granted for a new PE hall and everything was going fine. That year, however, demolition experts moved in and demolished the PE hall and the recreational area. They have still not been replaced so there is a large vacant site in the middle of the school.

Students have not had any PE or recreational facilities for the past three years, which is a matter of real concern to them, their parents and the staff. The staff are very committed to this forward-thinking school. I have raised this Commencement matter in order to get some firm answers from the Department of Education and Skills. The school has been endeavouring to ascertain what is happening and when it will get a PE hall. Is the funding available for it and, if so, what is the timeline of the project? We keep being told it will arrive next week or shortly thereafter but it is unacceptable that over 500 students in Balbriggan do not have access to PE and recreational facilities in their school.

I am seeking direct answers from the Minister of State, on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills, to the following questions. What is happening with this project and when will the school get a new PE hall? When will construction work start on it and what timeline is envisaged? In addition, what is the overall plan for the school? Many of us are concerned that there may be another reason for this delay, but I hope there is no ulterior motive.

I would be grateful if the Minister of State could provide an update on when work will commence on building the PE facilities that are badly needed in Balbriggan community college, and when the project be finished.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Darragh O'Brien for raising this matter as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the Seanad the progress on providing sports facilities at Balbriggan community college.

The sports hall proposal submitted is a joint undertaking between Fingal County Council and Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB, with the site to be provided by the ETB and funding to be provided by both Fingal County Council and the Department of Education and Skills. My Department approved co-funding for the proposed sports facility in April 2011 and responsibility for delivery of the project was devolved to Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB, which at the time was County Dublin VEC.

The sports facility concerned will be developed on the existing site of Balbriggan community college. That might put to bed some concerns that are out there. In addition to the sports facility project, the Senator will be aware that a major capital project for Balbriggan community college was announced in March 2012 as part of the five-year building programme. Responsibility for the delivery of the major community college project has also been devolved to the Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB.

Following a site visit in 2013, it was agreed that in view of the condition of the existing community college building coupled with other site issues, the most economical solution was to demolish the existing single-storey school building and build a multi-storey building on the footprint of the existing building. In addition to providing a new school building, this major project will also incorporate and retain the existing Drogheda Street building. When completed, it is envisaged that Balbriggan community college will cater for 1,000 pupils and will include a two-classroom special needs unit.

In view of the co-location of the major project for the school and the sports facility on the Balbriggan community college site, I understand that it has been necessary, as part of the architectural planning process, to master-plan the development of the site in question. In tandem, arising from ongoing discussions between Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB and Fingal County Council, variations to the brief for the sports facility have also been the subject of proposals submitted to the Department. In respect of the most recent variations, the Department sought clarifications in respect of the revised proposal, which was recently provided by the Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB.

A meeting to discuss both projects - the major project and the sports facility project - has been scheduled between officials from my Department and Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB this coming Friday, 23 April in the Department's offices in Tullamore. I can assure the Senator that officials in my Department are progressing matters with a view to advancing both projects to tender and construction stage as soon as possible. I cannot give a date for the building work to start but it is intended to drive it on as quickly as possible.We hope to move forward at the meeting on Friday.

The Department fully recognises the key role played by physical exercise within the school environment and continues to respond to the need to improve physical education facilities for all pupils within the constraints of the available funding. I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position on the provision of sports, recreational and PE facilities at Balbriggan community college, Balbriggan, County Dublin.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his detailed response which I am hopeful will allay many of our fears. At least we have something in writing that indicates what is happening and I am pleased that a meeting is due to take place on Friday. The Minister of State is in a neighbouring constituency and I ask him to keep an eye on the issue. I certainly will because I do not want it to drag on further. I very much appreciate the Minister of State taking the time to come to the House. I will be liaising with the principal and the parents' bodies and will give them a copy of the Minister of State's response. I will table another Commencement matter in approximately four weeks to follow up with the Minister of State on the progress made at the meeting. He has outlined what we all agree on, namely, the importance of sports facilities, but a master plan for the site is needed. We will assess the answer given and revert to the Minister of State whom I again thank for the update.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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As a colleague in the neighbouring constituency, I am aware of the need for these facilities in the Balbriggan area and the property required. It is a shame that the previous facility was demolished and that there that has been such a long gap in the provision of new facilities. I do not know the history, but I will stress again the urgency of the matter to the officials who are prepared to do what has to be done. The money has been allocated. It has been ring-fenced for this site and there is no danger of it being allocated elsewhere. It was probably delayed as a result of the changes made during the years. While the allocation of additional money in the five year plan was good news, it might also have delayed matters. However, there is an onus on us to move forward as quickly as we can and also to allay fears.

Sitting suspended at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.