Dáil Éireann - Volume 526 - 28 November, 2000
Adjournment Debate. - Schools Building Projects.
Mr. Creed Mr. Creed
Mr. Creed: I am somewhat disappointed that the Minister for Education and Science is not here to reply to this matter. However, if it is an indication that he is at last concerning himself with a resolution to the ASTI dispute, I will excuse his absence from the House.
 I am raising on the Adjournment the subject matter of Parliamentary Question No. 912 which I tabled on Tuesday, 7 November. The Minister for Education and Science, Dr. Woods, replied to my question on the extension to St. Mary's Secondary School, Macroom, as follows:
My Department's planning and building unit is currently examining the stage 4 submission (detailed design) for the proposed extension at the school to which the Deputy refers. Once this examination is complete and, if found to be in order, the issue of progressing to stage 5 – bill of quantities – will be decided. A decision regarding the invitation of tenders for proposed remedial works to the roof of the PE hall at the school will be made shortly.
I wish to be as frank and honest as possible in debating this issue because I believe it is more than five years ago since I made representations to the Department about an extension to St. Mary's Secondary School, Macroom, and repairs to the PE hall. Since I made these representations, almost a full cycle of second level students have completed their education at St. Mary's Secondary School without adequate provision for PE, adequate classroom facilities, science laboratories etc. being available to them.
This is a damning indictment of how we do business because five years ago the school authorities and board of management and the Department of Education, through its inspectorate and schools building unit, recognised the shortcomings, yet we have meandered our way in a casual stroll-like fashion through the procedures to such an extent that as at 7 November as shown in the Minister's reply we are at stage 4 and perhaps proceeding to stage 5. It is very difficult to explain to parents, staff and pupils that these inexcusable delays are somehow justifiable, because they are not. If in 1995 the Department recognised there were shortcomings in the school infrastructure, it should have been possible long before now to resolve them. I believe it is as symptomatic of how the school buildings unit of the Department does business as it is of the failure of Government to provide funds for the extension. When this Government came to office there was the bones of a resolution to many of these problems in the proposals for local self-governance on education matters through the Education Bill which the previous Minister for Education had been piloting through the Dáil.
The new Minister, Deputy Martin, threw the baby out with the bath water Perhaps some aspects of the Bill were not quite palatable but there was a structure in the vocational education committees which could have been modified to take into account all primary and secondary school policy decisions. That vehicle could have been expanded to accommodate the needs of teachers' and parents' representatives on the board and given a system of local decision-making on education matters. Given that the Minister threw the baby out with the bath water we must now make representations to the school building unit in Tullamore for every pane of glass which needs to be repaired in the school. This is ridicu lous and inefficient and it will now cost significantly more to build the extension than if the work had been carried out quickly in 1995. However, the approach of successive Administrations to all school buildings is to procrastinate and delay. The only way to resolve this issue is to provide the decision-making authority at local level, similar to the health boards, whereby priorities can be made on the basis of annual financial allocations. Then we would not be hiding behind stage 4 or stage 5 procedures.
The reality is that this project is long overdue. Two successive Administrations have had the issue before them for a considerable time. I urge the Minister of State, primarily on behalf of the students who, I regret, are not centre stage in many education debates at present, not to let another full cycle of second level students go through St. Mary's Secondary School, Macroom, without adequate PE facilities, science laboratory facilities and all the other classroom facilities necessary to deliver a modern quality education service.
Mr. Treacy Mr. Treacy
Mr. Treacy: I wish to thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to outline my Department's proposals in relation to the provision of an extension at St. Mary's Secondary School, Macroom.
First, I would like to provide some background information on this case. The junior school and St. Catherine's date from the 19th century. The main school building consists of a two story structure built circa 1965 and the high school extension was built in 1981. The school authority made an application for additional permanent accommodation in 1995. My Department's planning section examined this matter and in May, 1995, recommended that the requirements of the school in the future should be based on a long-term enrolment projection of 375 pupils.
The accommodation requirements of the school were then assessed by the Department's senior inspector. Following this assessment and revisions requested by the school principal, a schedule of residual accommodation was drawn up which formed the basis for any extension at the school. Due to restraints on capital funding at that stage, my Department was not in a position to proceed with the appointment of a design team. However, in October 1997, a letter issued to the school recommending the nomination of a design team in order to initiate the architectural planning of the proposed extension.
The new accommodation currently being planned includes three general classrooms and a number of specialist rooms, including a science laboratory and a mechanical drawing room. The first three stages of architectural planning have already been approved and in February 2000 my Department issued approval to the school authority to proceed to stage 4 of architectural planning, that is, the detailed design stage.
In May 2000 the school authority requested grant aid to purchase a plot of land to extend the general purpose area. Under revised arrangements introduced by the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, my Depart ment purchases the site for any proposed new school. However, in this instance funding was not provided towards the purchase of this site as it would mean the convent order would own the school site, yet the Department would own a small plot of land adjacent to the school. I am sure the Deputy will agree that would not be sensible. However, the Department approved the extension of the general purpose area from 84.4 square metres to 138 square metres.
In September last the Department received the stage 4 submission for the proposed extension and this is currently being examined by the Department's staff. Once this examination is complete, and if found to be in order, the issue of progressing to stage 5, the bill of quantities stage, will be decided.
As this project is still in the architectural planning it is not possible at this stage to sanction the invitation of tenders. However, the Deputy can be assured that due to the vast amount of money allocated for capital development within the Department and included in the Book of Estimates which will be translated into cash liquidity in the budget on 6 December next and thereafter transferred to the various Departments, the matter will be dealt with as quickly as possible.
Dáil Éireann 526 Adjournment Debate. Schools Building Projects.