Seanad Éireann - Volume 186 - 14 February, 2007

Adjournment Matters. - Schools Building Projects.

  Mr. Kitt: I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to raise this issue and I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This is my first request to him and I hope he can give me an update on the position of Cahergal National School, near Tuam in County Galway. The board of management, the parents’ committee, the teachers and the students of this school have been trying for many years to get a site for a new school. A site has now been purchased and is to be transferred to the Department of Education and Science. Can the Minister of State tell me when this can be done? It is important to get the site transferred so that we can work on the design and planning for a new school.

Cahergal National School has had an increased enrolment over the past few years. It is the only school in the north-east Galway area that has not had some improvements. Numerous schools did not receive any improvement during the last general election campaign, but thanks to the pilot version of the devolved grant scheme, many of those schools have since been improved and are in very good condition. However, Cahergal National School has been sorely neglected because they could not get a site. To compound matters, there was a fire in the school recently that caused further difficulties for the students and teachers. It is a health and safety hazard to allow the school continue in the current building following that fire.

I hope the Minister of State can provide an update on the progress of the school. A new site [207] has been purchased, so the big issue is to transfer the site to the Department of Education and Science and start work on designing a new primary school in Cahergal.

  Mr. Haughey: I thank the Senator for raising this matter, as it affords me the opportunity to outline the Government’s strategy for capital investment in education projects and to outline the position of the Department of Education and Science on the development of education provision in Cahergal National School in Tuam.

Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post primary schools is not an easy task, given the legacy of decades of under-investment in this area and the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth. Nonetheless, this Government has shown a focused determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure that the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum. As evidence of this commitment, over €540 million will be spent in the coming year on building and modernisation projects in primary and post-primary schools. Since 1997, a total of €3 billion has been invested in school buildings and this has delivered over 7,800 school building projects. This further investment of over €540 million will build on these achievements and will focus on the provision of school accommodation in areas where the population is growing at a rapid rate. As further evidence of our commitment, national development plan funding of €4.5 billion will be invested in schools over the coming years. This record level of investment is a positive testament to the priority the Government attaches to ensuring that school accommodation is of the highest standard possible.

In order to reduce red tape and allow projects to move faster, responsibility for smaller projects has been devolved to school level. Standard [208] designs have also been developed for eight and 16 classroom schools to facilitate speedier delivery of projects and save on design fees. The design and build method is also used to expedite delivery where the use of standard designs is not possible. Taken together with the unprecedented level of funding available, these initiatives ensure that building projects are delivered in the fastest timeframe possible.

Cahergal National School in Tuam is a co-educational primary school. Enrolments at the school have decreased slightly from 106 in 2002 to 94 in 2006. Officials in the Department of Education and Science have completed their assessment of projected enrolments and have determined that the long-term projected staffing for Cahergal National School will be for a principal and five mainstream teachers. This has been notified to the school authorities. Furthermore, a decision was taken to provide a new six classroom school as a replacement school. The acquisition of the site adjoining the school has concluded and the transfer of the existing site to the Minister for Education and Science is ongoing. The school building project will be considered for development in the context of the school building and modernisation programme.

I thank the Senator once again for raising the matter and allowing me to outline the progress being made under the school building and modernisation programme and the position of Cahergal National School.

  Mr. Kitt: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Can he inform me when the transfer of the existing site from Cahergal National School to the Department will be completed? That is vital to the development of the school.

  Mr. Haughey: The transfer is ongoing, but I will undertake to get the information and inform the Senator.

  The Seanad adjourned at 8.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 15 February 2007.