Dáil Éireann - Volume 647 - 20 February, 2008

Written Answers. - School Accommodation.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when she will eliminate the use of prefabs throughout the country by replacement with permanent structures; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7128/08]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: I assure the Deputy that every effort is made by the Department to keep expenditure on prefabricated accommodation as low as possible. Where accommodation is needed at very short notice, however, a temporary solution can be the only option. Such accommodation may also be used where the need is short-term, such as when a school requires a temporary building while it is awaiting the completion of construction of permanent facilities. Last year, only 5% of the total investment in school buildings went on the rental of temporary accommodation.

This year nearly €600 million will be invested in school buildings and construction work will take place which is expected to provide permanent accommodation for about 20,000 pupils when complete.

The Deputy will be aware that in the past newly-recognised schools have generally had to open in temporary accommodation. I have been anxious to move away from this approach in developing areas and this year we are working hard to open as many new schools as possible in permanent accommodation.

Department officials have been working in partnership with local authority staff to acquire sites needed for new schools next September. Considerable effort has also been invested in pre-planning discussions with a view to ironing out any difficulties that might otherwise have been experienced at planning permission stage. I also held very productive meetings with a number of county managers and their senior planners and appreciate the effort that they have put into working with us on this. Sites for each of the September 2008 projects have been identified and site master-plans have been developed by the technical teams.

Our aim, where possible, is to put permanent solutions in place on a phased basis to meet the immediate September 2008 needs with a second phase to follow as required. Permanent solutions will be possible where a long-term site has been secured. A significant amount of [1019] building work on the new schools is being done off-site. The successful tenderers for the construction of each individual project have been notified. Project teams which were recruited from the private sector in October 2007 have been tasked with preparing the planning applications, undertaking the necessary surveys and overseeing the delivery of the schools on each site.

To conclude, expenditure on temporary accommodation has tended to represent a very small proportion of the overall investment in school buildings in recent years. The use of prefabs is avoided where possible but sometimes they can be the only feasible option. And we are now working to ensure that, where possible, new schools in developing areas will open in permanent accommodation from the start.