Seanad Éireann - Volume 110 - 04 December, 1985

Adjournment Matter. - Listowel (Kerry) Vocational School.

Mr. Deenihan: I should like to thank the Minister of State for his attendance here tonight. I must also acknowledge both his and his Department's commitment to school building in north Kerry. Recently three new extensions to secondary schools have been completed and officially opened by the Minister of State in the area.

Since the major extensions were added to Saint Michael's College, Listowel and the Presentation Convent, Listowel, Listowel Vocational School now unfortunately finds itself in a disadvantageous position vis á vis the above two schools. The enrolment figure for the 1985-86 school year is considerably lower than that for 1984-85. The number of students in the school has dropped from 326 to 306. No doubt the attractive educational environs of the new extensions compared to the damp and rundown condition of the ten pre-fabs in the old vocational school is having an influence on where parents are sending their children to school.

At this stage I would like to compliment the principal and staff of the vocational school for their dedicated work over the years in providing an excellent education especially in the area of preparatory courses. The school also runs a very successful pre-employment course [674] with almost a 90 per cent placement last year. This course has been in progress since 1978 and has found a widespread acceptance and approval from employers in the local community. There are ten pre-fabs in the school. Included among the pre-fabs is a science laboratory, a geography room, a library and an exercise room. Surely a pre-fab is not the ideal accommodation for a science laboratory? These pre-fabs are now almost 15 years old and are in continuous use despite their deterioration. Efforts have been made to maintain them on a regular basis but they are now falling apart. Almost 50 per cent of the school's teaching activity takes place in the pre-fabs. No doubt this is a very difficult environment for teaching and learning to take place. Both the teachers and the pupils have suffered frequent colds and flus because of the damp conditions, and in saying this I am not exaggerating. It is commonly accepted locally that this is the case. Some time ago during a visit to north Kerry the Minister for Education saw the conditions of the pre-fabs for herself and I must say was rather appalled and agreed that the pre-fabs should be replaced as soon as possible.

Listowel Vocational School provides a wide and comprehensive range of subjects. It provides the only facilities in the area for the teaching of metalwork, woodwork, engineering and building construction. I do not have to tell the Minister the importance of the above subjects in this area of modern technology. Besides, industry in Listowel requires a highly educated workforce in the engineering and technical areas. A number of our industries are in the engineering sector and require a workforce with an expertise in fitting, welding and toolmaking. Industries like Kerry CoOp, Stag Cutlery, Stelrod — to mention but a few — are very dependent on the expertise that is being acquired in the vocational school. Listowel Vocational School is ideally situated to provide this talent and it is imperative that they have every facility to do so.

[675] Finally, while recognising the enormous expenditure on educational facilities and building in the north Kerry area over the past three years, especially in Listowel town, nevertheless I believe there should be no further delay in the proposed extension to Listowel Vocational School for the reasons I have outlined.

Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Creed): My Department are fully aware of the needs of the vocational school in Listowel and I have sanctioned quite a large extension to that school to enable it to cater for an enrolment of 325 pupils. In addition, reconstruction work to the existing building has been sanctioned. The planning of the extension has reached developed sketch scheme stage and the present position is that County Kerry Vocational Educational Committee were authorised by my Department on 25 July last to proceed to the next stage, which is the preparation of the working drawings. This documentation is presently awaited in my Department and when it is received it will be examined as quickly as possible.

The question of the provision of permanent accommodation at Listowel Vocational School has been under consideration for some time in the context of the second level educationl needs in the area as a whole. In this regard a local proposal for the development of a community school for boys in Listowel was rejected at a public meeting in the town in April 1982. It was following this decision that the development of the vocational school got underway.

Architectural planning of the extension was initiated at a meeting in my Department in December 1982. The proposed extension, which will replace existing unsatisfactory temporary prefabricated building structures, will provide 1,068 square metres of accommodation, comprising a science laboratory, metalwork room, general classrooms, social studies area, commerce typing room, general purpose physical education area and ancillary accommodation. [676] The estimated cost of this extension is £750,000, including building work, fees, furniture and equipment.

In order to achieve effective monitoring and control in the planning of school building projects, and so contain our building programme within our available resources, and also to meet school building needs at the most economical level possible, well defined procedures must be complied with. These procedures have been developed in response to the demands for the provision of suitable buildings in accordance with carefully worked out space requirements and cost planning, with the purpose of having school buildings provided as speedily as proper planning allows. Standards of school design, cost control and effective administration have been set, adherence to which will ensure that the programme of educational building required will provide buildings which will serve their purpose well and represent good value for money.

I understand the feeling of school authorities and the parents of the children who naturally wish to have the accommodation as soon as possible and who think that, once their application for such accommodation has been approved, it should only be a short time before the children are occupying their places in the new school or extension. However, it has been the experience in my Department that, in order to ensure that there is no duplication or wastage of resources, no errors made in planning which will lead to costly extras in the constructions phase of the project, we must have effective monitoring and control of every project at pre-contract stage. The progress of any project depends to a large extent on the speed with which a design team can complete successfully the various stages.

It is against the background of these criteria and procedures that the progress of any projects must be viewed. As I said earlier, planning of the Listowel project commenced in December 1982 and an outline sketch scheme was received from the committee in October 1983 and a developed sketch scheme in May 1984. At this stage it became necessary, in [677] accordance with paragraph 5.12 of the Programme for Action in Education, to explore the possibility of rationalisation of facilities in the area. However, this examination concluded that, having regard to all the circumstances, rationalisation was not a feasible alternative.

The developed sketch scheme documentation which had been submitted required clarification on a number of technical matters. These were put to the committee in April last and subsequently an on-site meeting was held in July to resolve the issues. I repeat that the Department are fully aware of the accommodation conditions at the school. I assure the Senator that I am only too well aware of the condition of some of our schools, particularly the prefabricated buildings. I have visited a number of schools and am aware of the conditions under which some of our teachers have to work and children have to be accommodated.

I assure the Senator that when the stage four documentation is received in my Department it will be dealt with as expeditiously as possible, as indeed will all the remaining stages of planning. The Senator is probably more influential with the Kerry County Vocational Educational Committee than I am. He probably knows the CEO and the members [678] of the VEC. We are waiting since 24 July for the working drawings which have to be examined to see that they are in accordance with well-defined procedures in school building. Once these drawings are approved the school will be attended to as quickly as possible. I do not doubt that the school is in bad condition. In view of the seriousness of the case made by the Senator, there should not be delay in forwarding the working drawings from the Kerry VEC. If the Senator would make representations to ensure that they are forwarded to my Department and that they are, as I have already stated, in accordance with the well defined procedures laid down by my Department, the project will be pushed as quickly as possible to the next stage, which is the provision of the bills of quantity. When it comes to that stage it will have to be again examined in my Department.

I am aware of the conditions in the school. There will be no undue delay as far as my Department are concerned in this matter. If the Senator will use his influence in County Kerry, together we can speed up the provision of Listowel Vocational School.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 5 December 1985.