Dáil Éireann - Volume 677 - 04 March, 2009
Adjournment Debate. - Schools Building Programme.
Deputy Charlie O’Connor Deputy Charlie O’Connor
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: I appreciate the courtesy of the Ceann Comhairle’s office in allowing me to raise this important matter which relates to education in the Tallaght area and specifically to the Holy Rosary national school in Ballycragh, a place Deputy McGinley will have heard of.
Somebody said to me today that it is a very difficult time to raise issues about building programmes but I wish to put on the record of the House that the Holy Rosary national school was highlighted on the “Today with Pat Kenny” programme last Monday because it has waited a long time for its building programme. The school has been raising this issue for more than 25 years and it really is time that progress was made. The school community is very much behind the campaign for the allocation of permanent school buildings on the site in Ballycragh. People point out to me they are aware of the current economic climate and that the prefabs  are costing the Government, I am told, €120,000 per annum. The school and the community in general continue to urge the Government to consider once again the advantage to everybody concerned of progressing the building project.
Holy Rosary national school in Ballycragh is an amazing place in the sense that it has a very vibrant community and a very large international community. My colleagues and I have seen the worth of the work and how good they are at dealing with education in a very challenging situation.
The school board tells me it is a band 2 school and stage 3 documentation has been with the technical staff of the Department of Education and Science for more than 12 months. The board also tells me that it is very well placed to move forward and would be happy to co-operate fully with the Department in any matters relating to the building programme request. I am glad that the Minister of State, Deputy Tony Killeen, is here and I look forward to his support in pointing out my concerns in this regard to the Minister for Education and Science.
Holy Rosary national school, Ballycragh, has 11 classrooms in a semi-permanent building and 13 prefabricated classrooms. Some 505 pupils are enrolled and there are 37 teaching staff. There are eight special needs assistants, a caretaker and a secretary. There are three adult toilets, no physical education hall, library or ancillary classrooms. A staffroom appropriate for 15 adults is accommodating three times that number. Current applications for enrolment exceed the number of places on offer. This is a developing area of south Dublin and planning permission has been granted for 3,000 houses in the immediate area.
In making a strong case for the school, I believe, without disrespect to anybody, that if it was situated in the so-called commuter belt, the clamour would have been greater and the technical staff of the Department would have been more responsive. If this was in Meath, Kildare or other commuter regions, action would have been taken. I believe that the community there is entitled to make a strong case for the school. Even in the present situation, I hope the Department will look anew at this building programme and seek innovative ways of providing permanent accommodation. That is what the community in Ballycragh deserves.
I know from my many contacts with the school board that its members have been led to believe, on a number of occasions, that the project would be expedited. Clearly, they now find themselves approaching a new school year without knowing the position.
The radio programme on Monday highlighted in a positive manner the good things that are going on in Ballycragh and the clear need for progress on the building programme. I hope that the Minister of State will convey my strong feelings on this issue and I look forward to his response. I thank the Acting Chairman for his courtesy.
Deputy Tony Killeen Deputy Tony Killeen
Deputy Tony Killeen: Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Ó Concubhair agus táim ag freagairt thar ceann an Aire Parthalán Ó Caoímh.
I am happy to reply on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, the Minister for Education and Science. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the House the Department’s strategy for capital investment in education projects and to outline the current position with regard to the building project for Holy Rosary national school, Ballycragh, in Dublin 24.
Modernising facilities in the existing building stock, as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth, is a significant challenge and is one of the priorities of the Minister for Education and Science. The Government has dramatically  increased investment in the school building programme to €656 million this year. This is an unprecedented level of capital investment which reflects the commitment of the Government to continue its programme of sustained investment in primary and post-primary schools. It will underpin a particular emphasis on the delivery of additional school places in rapidly developing areas while continuing to develop on the Government’s commitment to delivering improvements in the quality of existing primary and post-primary accommodation throughout the country. It will also enable the purchase of sites to facilitate the smooth delivery of the school building programme, again with the focus being on site requirements in rapidly developing areas.
All applications for capital funding are assessed in the planning and building unit of the Department. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings, site capacity etc., leading ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution. As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects. These criteria were devised following consultation with the education partners.
Projects are selected for inclusion in the school building and modernisation programme on the basis of priority of need. This is reflected in the band rating assigned to a project. In other words, a proposed building project moves through the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it. There are four band ratings overall, of which band 1 is the highest and band 4 the lowest. Band 1 projects, for example, include the provision of buildings where none currently exists, but there is a high demand for pupil places, while a band 4 project provides for desirable, but not necessarily urgent or essential, facilities, such as a library or a new sports hall. The building project for Holy Rosary national school has been assigned a band rating of 2.1 which means that the project is well positioned to progress when the necessary funding becomes available.
In relation to the Holy Rosary national school, the brief for the project is to provide for the construction of a new 24-classroom school of approximately 3,562 sq. m with three new ball courts and two junior play areas. The project is currently at an early stage of architectural planning.
The progression of all large-scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction is dependent on the prioritisation of competing demands on the funding available under the Department’s capital budget. This project will be considered in the context of the Department’s multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. The allocation for school buildings in 2009 is €656 million. This represents a significant investment in the school building and modernisation programme. This level of funding for the building programme, at a time of great pressure on public finances, is a sign of the real commitment of the Government to investing in school infrastructure and will permit the continuation of progress in the overall improvement of school accommodation.
I thank the Deputy again for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House how the Department intends to address the needs of Holy Rosary national school. However, in light of current economic circumstances and with competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the further progression of this project at this time.
I wish to refer to the use of funding allocated to Holy Rosary national school for temporary accommodation. This was discussed in the radio programme referred to by the Deputy. It was  the current Minister who, last year, announced that schools which have been approved funding for temporary accommodation can avail of the option of using their grants either to purchase prefabs or to construct permanent classrooms for the same amount. Holy Rosary national school was approved for funding of €240,000 in 2008 for urgently required temporary accommodation. The Minister welcomes the approach taken by Holy Rosary in availing of this initiative to provide permanent classrooms within the funding allocated.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 5 March 2009.
Dáil Éireann 677 Adjournment Debate. Schools Building Programme.