Seanad debates

Monday, 22 March 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

School Accommodation

10:30 am

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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This morning I wish to raise the issue of Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty, to discuss the need for an urgent update on the progress of the proposed extension to the school.

Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty, is one of the key cornerstone secondary schools in the town. Not only does it take in pupils from the Clonakilty town area, but it also has a large rural catchment area. There are over 550 students at the school and 47 classrooms. The school was established 80 years ago, in 1941.One of the key issues relates to how we get development on this project. This project has been the subject of many stumbles along the way. A project manager was appointed in August 2019 for this school project and it was part of the so-called ADAPT 2 approach that bundles school projects together. However, because of the complex nature of the build in Clonakilty, where heritage and cultural issues pertain in respect of the project, it was taken out of that bundle.

Although appointed in 2019, the project manager left and did not take on the project. This became a significant burden on the school population in regard to how they would progress the new build, which is basically the redevelopment of a former complex on the site that has been left idle for several years. There is a real issue regarding how to get movement on the proposal. There has been temporary accommodation on-site for many years and there is also the need for an, ASD, unit, an issue in respect of which the Minister of State is very much involved. The school has actively looked for that but, again, the lack of accommodation is becoming a major issue in terms of site and school development.

The Minister of State might provide an update on whether the project has moved forward. In many ways, it went forward in 2019 but it has gone backwards since. We need to see movement on this project as there are so many issues, whether in regard to the ASD unit or the derelict building on the site, which, unfortunately has an erosion issue because of its location, and the building is falling into disrepair. There are many issues that need to be tied together so we can get movement on this project.

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I hope to be able to clarify the current position regarding Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty, which is an all-girls school under the patronage of Catholic Education, an Irish Schools Trust, CEIST. The enrolment at the school in September 2020 was 524 pupils and the school has a staffing of nearly 40 whole-time equivalent teachers. As the Senator is aware, Sacred Heart Secondary School is included in the Department's capital programme being delivered as part of the national development plan, NDP. The agreed long-term projected enrolment, LTPE, for the school is 600 pupils, with one SEN, special educational needs, base class, as the Senator mentioned, and it is critical that this goes ahead.

In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas. It also uses a geographical information system, GIS, which uses data from a range of sources, including child benefit data from the Department of Social Protection and the Department's school enrolment databases, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. The Department has strengthened the process this year through specific initiatives, for example, enhanced engagement with local authorities in regard to the information on residential development incorporated in the analysis process, and additional engagement with patron bodies in regard to their local knowledge on school place requirements. Education and training boards, diocesan offices and national patron bodies, such as Educate Together and An Foras Pátrúnachta, can also be an important source of local knowledge. This will add to information already provided to the Department by local authorities or individual schools, and by utilising the information gleaned from schools under the national inventory of school capacity completed by individual schools last year as part of the primary online database and post-primary online database returns process.

In a standard year, addressing the increased demands for school places, while challenging, is manageable, generally through utilisation of existing spare capacity within schools, rental, temporary accommodation or other short-term measures pending the delivery of permanent accommodation.

With regard to the major building project for Sacred Heart Secondary School, my Department carried out a strategic assessment review of the proposed project in order to consider various options on how best to progress the project and to deliver the necessary accommodation to meet the long-term projected enrolment of 600 pupils. Following completion of the strategic assessment review, a number of options have been identified on how best the project can be progressed and this will form part of the project brief for the appointed design team to explore and develop.

The Department is now in the process of amending the brief formulation documents for the project to include the recommended options from the strategic assessment review, which will allow the project to be ready to progress to architectural planning.The Senator will also be glad know that agreement has been reached with the school patron, namely, Catholic Education An Irish Schools' Trust, CEIST, to manage the delivery of this project on a devolved basis under a service level agreement. That is progress and will allow the Department to progress this project into the architectural planning process as quickly as possible. The school authority and the principal also have been advised of the current position.

Obviously, it is not possible at this early stage to outline the likely completion date of the project. I wish to advise the Senator, however, that updates regarding all building projects are provided on my Department's website and this information is updated on a regular basis. I will also bring this matter to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Foley, and to the building and planning unit within the Department to see if it can be expedited as soon as possible.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive response. The big issue here is about clarity. Unfortunately, in 2019, the school was taken out of the partial bundle that had a set line with a project manager because of the complex nature of the build and the building and what is required of that site. It is important that we get progress. I am delighted that the school has been informed of the progress that has been proposed to date. The appointment of the architectural team is essential here. That is the key stumbling block. We need to have that team in place in order that it can review the structure and put in place a real design that will suit the school's present and future needs.

Clonakilty has seen significant development over the past two decades and there is a real potential there again for real development in housing, which will also have a knock-on effect on the school education infrastructure. The need for the school to be put in place, not alone for now but for the generations ahead, is very important. Hopefully, we can in time get a timeline for the architectural brief as to when we will see a design put in place. That design will be complex because one must take into consideration both the existing old structure and the reconfiguration of the previous 1941 building, which is probably where the new building will go.

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for his comments. I know what he is saying about the school being there since 1941. It is a badly needed development. I also note his remarks about the project manager who was in place in August 2019. I believe, however, I have given him some positives in my contribution today in terms of trying to move towards that architectural planning process which, as he said, is the key in this regard to. The fact that an agreement has been reached with Catholic Education An Irish Schools' Trust regarding the management of the delivery of the project under a service level agreement means we move towards that goal, which is positive, as is the fact the school has been notified of the progress. A strategic assessment review was carried out, as a result of which options have been considered, and having a project brief for the appointed design team to explore and develop is important. I acknowledge this is an issue close to the Senator's heart and I will do everything I can to ensure it happens quickly as possible.

Mark Wall (Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State for her time today. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to the Chamber.