Tuesday, 9 April 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Schools Building Projects Status
I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills to the House and thank him for taking this Commencement matter. I am raising with him once again the schools building project status of St. Molaga’s senior national school in Balbriggan, north County Dublin. I have raised it before on several occasions, the last time being late September. I am looking for an update on this project to see if we can keep it moving quickly through the system.
As I have outlined on previous occasions, Balbriggan is the youngest and fastest growing town in Ireland. St. Molaga’s senior national school has served the town for a long number of years and has an excellent reputation. However, it is in a difficult and unsatisfactory accommodation situation. It has 466 pupils, 28 teachers, including the principal, Ms Pauline Costello, and six special needs assistants. Approximately 60% of the school population is housed in 15 prefabs, many of which are 19 years old. These prefabs are not fit for purpose. They are too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. They are leaking and damp. The children and the teachers are getting chest infections and these conditions are having a detrimental effect on those with asthma.
Three of the prefabs were damaged during Storm Ali last September. While they have since been repaired, the overall bad state of the prefabs is causing a big impact on the learning environment in the school. The teachers, the principal and the special needs assistants are keeping standards high but it is a difficult task. The pupils and staff of St. Molaga’s and the people of Balbriggan deserve progress on this matter. An extension to the school was approved several years ago which was welcomed. However, it has taken a number of years to get to this point and patience is wearing thin. Conditions are too difficult for this matter to go on any longer. The project needs to be prioritised and fast-tracked. That is why I am raising it here again with the Minister.
This afternoon the Department of Education and Skills phoned the principal, Ms Pauline Costello, to let her know that the project manager framework is now completed, which is to be welcomed. The next stage in the process is the appointment of a consultant design team. I would like the Minister to outline the timeframe for that stage of the process because it is urgent. It is important that we move on to that stage rapidly so we can build the new school for the children to move into and continue with the excellent learning environment at St. Molaga's. I would like the Minister to answer that question and I emphasise that this can no longer be put on the long finger. The school has a fantastic reputation in the town and staff are doing their best but are feeling neglected. We need to end the neglect of the children, teachers and other staff members at St. Molaga's.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir fá choinne na ceiste seo. Tuigim na buntáistí agus na míbhuntáistí a ghabhann leis an ardú daonra sa cheantar agus tuigim na fadhbanna maidir leis na seomraí sealadacha. Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil tionchar suntasach ag an fhadhb sin ar an scoil.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position of the major building project for St. Molaga's senior national school in Balbriggan, County Dublin. A building project for this school is included in the Department's school building programme being delivered under the national development plan. A project brief has been finalised and proposes a 16-classroom school, to include two special class teachers, eight special education tuition rooms and a two-class special education needs base. The project will be delivered by the Department's accelerated delivery of architectural planning and tendering, ADAPT, programme, an innovative, accelerated delivery programme first introduced by my Department in 2016. It uses a professional, external project manager appointed to a selected programme of projects to co-ordinate and expedite the work of the respective design teams on each project.
In this regard, a tender competition to establish a project manager framework is due to conclude on Wednesday, 10 April. Once established, this framework will be used in a tender competition to appoint a project manager for the ADAPT programme. Once a project manager is appointed, the next step will be for the project manager to run the tender competitions for the appointment of the individual design teams. My Department wrote to the school and, as the Seanadóir pointed out, a phone call was made to the school to provide an update on the status of this project.
I assure the Seanadóir that we have a new programme in operation, through ADAPT, keeping a close eye on it. It is a national programme comprising many schools from different constituencies throughout the country, including my own. It is a new way of doing things and the big feedback I am getting from the schools that are dealing with this project is that it takes pressure off the school. Once a project manager is appointed to administer this programme, I am confident that this will be a new way of trying to move it forward in as speedy a manner as possible.
I want to know how long will the process take to get the project manager in place. I know the framework has been completed but what kind of timescale is involved? Is it one month, five months or six months? Once the project manager is in place, how long will the tender for the design stage take?
Once the tender process is completed with the announcement tomorrow, it will be a matter of two or three months to ensure the project manager is appointed. This is part of a national plan and not specific to one school so I do not want to tie myself in a knot over the timeframe because it is a new scheme. My message to my officials when I meet them on this, and I have met them a number of times in Tullamore, is that if this is going to be a new way of doing things, we must look at the speed of completion and the importance of getting it done in as quick a timeframe as possible. Parents and schools tend to see the September window as the time to have works completed. We will not be ready this September but I am conscious that schools want to work in as speedy a manner as possible.
I am also conscious that we are dealing with many issues and difficulties with other schools in which things were done too quickly and with too much haste. It is about getting the right balance to ensure the right custom-fit building for proper outcomes while also being very conscious of the structural and safety capabilities.
Before the Leas-Chathaoirleach rules me out of order as well, I wish to reassure the Senator that once we announce the framework tomorrow, details around the timeframe will be built into that so there will be more specific detail on that tomorrow.