Thursday, 23 February 2017
Schools Building Projects
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. A large percentage of the primary school building in Carrignavar comprises prefabs - I understand over 70% of the students are accommodated in prefabs, a situation which has continued for some years. A number of issues arose over the past ten years regarding a new school building for the village. Over 350 students attend the school, a number which will not decrease as quite a large number of new houses have been built in the area over the past few years.
The condition of the school is not very good. It is not in the best interests of the children or staff to work in such conditions. Full planning permission is in place for a building that is the same size as the current school, but the project needs to progress. I ask that funding be provided in 2017 for the project to start.
The brief for the major building project for Scoil an Athar Tadhg in Carrignavar is to provide a new two-storey, 16 classroom school, with a four classroom ASD unit. The current staffing allocation is 13 mainstream teachers, five special class teachers, five permanent resource teachers, two permanent learning support teachers and four shared resource learning support teachers. As of September 2016, 342 pupils were enrolled in the school, an increase of 22, or 6%, on the figures for September 2012. As the Senator said, the school numbers are not declining.
The board of management is the client for the project and is fully responsible for directing the design team in regard to progressing through the design stages of architectural planning. As the Senator pointed out, there is some history to this project. In 2006, a design team was appointed to build a new school on a greenfield site but in 2009, following a meeting with the board of management, the diocesan trust and the Department, it became clear that the proposed exchange of a greenfield site for the current school site, which had been advanced by the board of management, was no longer viable.
A design team was reappointed for the new brief, that is, to accommodate a new school on the existing school site.A replacement civil and structural engineer and quantity surveyor also had to be appointed in June 2011 following the withdrawal of these consultants from the design team. The project progressed through the early design stages of architectural planning and in March 2016 the board of management requested a brief change which included an increase in floor area as a result of the stairwells and lift shaft not having been measured by the design team at stage 2(a); additional costs for compliance with the conditions associated with the statutory approval imposed by Cork County Council; and additional costs associated with a proposal for phased construction of the project. The additional costs increased the previously approved cost plan for the project by just over £2 million.
The brief change was approved by my Department in August 2016. The design team is completing the stage 2(b) submission which includes the preparation of full tender documents. When completed, the stage 2(b) report will be submitted to my Department for review. My Department will revert to the school on the further progression of the project following consideration of the report. The project is included in the six-year construction programme 2016 to 2021 announced in November 2015. However, before it can be approved to proceed to tender, the board of management and its design team must complete their work and submit the stage 2(b) report to my Department. On completion of its review of that report, my Department will revert to the board of management on the further progression of the project to tender and construction stages.
My understanding is the tender process has changed in the sense that the subcontractor, as well as the main contractor, must now provide all necessary documents. As the new process is slowing up projects by a few months, can the Department expedite them? Can it assist boards of management in progressing projects at a faster pace?
Since January there are new tendering requirements, but they have been designed to protect subcontractors in situations where some of them have been exposed. They are in the best interests of the successful long-term completion of projects with no adverse impact on those involved. This does not just apply to my Department, it is also a requirement across all Departments. We have to spend our money effectively and this is part of ensuring we will do so.