Thursday, 28 April 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Schools Building Projects
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber and it is good to have him here. I am looking for an update in regard to a primary school in my part of the world. Summercove national school is a wonderful school that has such potential but it has literally been at the bottom of the list for the past 20 years. We have been trying to make sure that it can get the appropriate new build that it has been seeking for more than 20 years. Kinsale is a wonderful town that has seen massive development, particularly on the educational front, and there is now the community school and the Gaelscoil, and another primary school is being built at the moment on the road towards Ballinspittle. However, Summercove national school has been somewhat left behind. The population of Kinsale is projected to increase by one third in the next few years in the county development plan and will go to an amazing 7,500 people. The need for the school to be redeveloped is urgent.
I have continuously raised this issue. Last year, I got an update from the Minister on 13 June stating that the Department would be finalising the accommodation brief for the project. We have seen very little movement on it since then and, therefore, I am looking for clarification as to where is the brief and where are the proposed timelines that we can put in place for the people of Kinsale regarding this important structure.
It is quite a small school in many ways. It has eight mainstream classrooms and three special education rooms. The newly appointed principal, Ms Hallissey, is doing a fantastic job and there is a powerful board behind this proposal. However, they have waited nearly two generations. I spoke to people at the weekend whose children have gone through the education system while they have been waiting for this new build to happen; not alone did they start primary but they finished secondary in that time. That is a damning indictment of where this project has been for the past 20 years. We need political and ministerial leverage to make sure we can deliver this project going forward. As I stated, Kinsale is a thriving town and this school is a very important part of it. We need to make sure we can develop both together. The Minister of State might give us an indication of the timelines, when the Department proposes that the finalised brief will be published and when it is proposed we will see boots on the ground and development starting.
I thank the Senator for raising this important issue on behalf of his community and Summercove national school in Kinsale. I first want to offer the apologies of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley.
The project for Summercove national school, Kinsale, is included in the Department's construction programme, which is being delivered under the national development plan. The brief for this project is the development of a single-storey, eight-classroom primary school with two classrooms for pupils with special educational needs at Summercove national school, including a new building and all associated site works. This major building project will be delivered under the Department’s ADAPT programme, which uses the services of a professional external project manager to co-ordinate and drive the design team to achieve the best possible timeframe to progress the project through the stages of architectural planning. The tender process to appoint a project manager is nearing completion. Upon appointment, the first step to be undertaken by the project manager will be the tender competitions for the appointment of design teams for a number of school building projects. This will include the appointment of the design team to progress the project for Summercove national school.
I note the Senator said in his opening remarks that it was 13 June when he tabled a Commencement matter to raise this very valid issue for himself and his constituents. I will follow up with the Minister in this regard. Obviously, they are awaiting the appointment of the project manager, as cited in the reply. All I can do is follow up for the Senator. I know he has been consistently raising this on behalf of the board of management, the principal and the parents of Summercove national school in Kinsale. It is very important that we deliver our capital programme, and especially our building programme in the educational sphere, quickly. Unfortunately, that is not our experience throughout the country. We have to get our act together and get those projects delivered on a timely basis.
I am disappointed with the response, which is almost verbatim the response I received in the previous Commencement debate. Six months later, the only thing that has happened is that the price of construction has gone up by perhaps 35%. The cost of the majority of projects has gone through the roof. I was speaking to a major contractor with regard to concrete blocks yesterday, and he said they are going up by 12.5% on 1 May, having already gone up by 10% on 1 January. Because of this delay in the past six months, we could say that the price of this school has increased by 25%.I do not think that is acceptable. We need to make sure that when it comes to appointing these project managers and to getting the tender documents out, sooner rather than later is key. They have waited for 20 years and still nothing has happened. I would therefore respectfully ask the Minister of State to go back to the Minister for Education and to ask her to put some political pressure behind this project. Otherwise, the costs of the build will go through the roof. The knock-on effect will be that pupils in the community in Kinsale, which I represent, will still be in prefabs. In this day and age, that is not appropriate.
Obviously, this is not my area of responsibility, but I will raise this matter with the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, and her Department. What the Senator is saying is key. We are experiencing very unusual increases and inflation. One can see in competition across public procurement projects that this will become very difficult. We therefore have to be able to deliver these projects on a timely basis.
In Holy Family national school, Mullingar, there was an awfully stressful period, again trying to deliver a project that should have been done 20 years ago. Therefore, as a State, we have to get our act together regarding getting these things appointed. I will raise the specific issues, because it is not good enough to come back with the same reply that the Senator received in June. I acknowledge that. I will refer back to the Minister, Deputy Foley, on it.