Seanad Éireann - Volume 194 - 11 March, 2009

Schools Building Projects.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: My query relates to the need for the Minister for Education and Science to indicate when Springdale national school in Raheny will be permitted to proceed to tender, to clarify under what criteria schools are deemed “priority” and to indicate for how long schools are expected to remain on the priority list while awaiting approval to proceed to the next stage.

This school has been delayed in its current state without adequate explanation for the past year. I have visited the school and seen the conditions. I commend the principal, Ms Stella Downes, Dr. Fiona Manning and other interested parents and parties for their vigour and attention to this issue, and for keeping it in focus. The school is in a very dangerous state at present, having been denied funding for a new building for almost eight years. It appears the project has been put on hold again and again, and the deterioration in the state of the building over this prolonged time is having implications for many aspects of life in the school, not least the health and safety of both pupils and staff.

The school first applied for planning permission for a new school in 1999 and this was sanctioned by the Department in March 2001. In February 2003, the school’s general inspector described the building as “totally inadequate” and it was assessed and listed as a priority in May 2005. Then, the Department altered the specifications and the school changed the plans accordingly. Despite proactively engaging with all the requirements as laid down by the Department and moving from stage 2 to stage 3 and through a range of stages, by February 2008, when the new school building list emerged, Springdale was omitted yet again.

In the meantime, the school building has deteriorated further with the deplorable conditions impacting on the entire school community. The health of staff and pupils has been adversely affected as a result of the dreadful conditions. School representatives met building unit officials last December and have been informed all along that the money “is there” and that the development will not be delayed. However, they feel that movement is not taking place and, to put it bluntly, that they have been getting the runaround. It appears there are unnecessary delays in the matter.

The school has no hot water, no designated PE facilities, no staff room and no library, and any such areas are now being utilised as temporary teaching areas. The junior infants classroom roof leaks, there is a damp problem and mouse infestation, and the principal spent last weekend sorting out drain problems in order to save money. Due to the continued lack of availability of funding, the school had to spend €2,500 on the heating system before Christmas, but the system itself is so antiquated that it is obsolete and replacement parts are no longer available.

What criteria are used to determine whether a school is placed on the priority list? “Totally inadequate” was the term used by the school’s general inspector in February 2003. One wonders how pupils and teachers can be allowed to remain in premises that are in dire need of updating. Children should not be expected to carry the worry load of their school. Their child[623]hood memories should be of learning, imagination, play and co-operation, not the adult worries of fixing the roof over their heads.

The children in this school are aware of the weather forecast and inform their teacher in order that the buckets and newspapers are in place to mitigate the effects of the rain on their dilapidated classroom. That does not square with the idea of a child-centred education system. In fact, it reinforces the public perception that the Government in times of plenty did not fulfil promises to schools like Springdale, and now, in times of scarcity, it seems that those most in need of support and funding will be those who suffer most.

  Deputy Barry Andrews: I am taking the adjournment debate on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe. I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the House the position with regard to the proposed building project for Springdale national school, Raheny, Dublin 5.

In September 2008, the Minister announced details of 25 major school building projects that are to go to tender and construction. As the Senator is aware, the proposed building project for Springdale was included in that announcement. The schools that were announced in September 2008 will provide permanent primary school places for over 4,500 students in five new and 15 extended and modernised schools. A further 3,600 students at post-primary level will benefit from one new school and four major extension and refurbishment projects. The project for Springdale involves the provision of a new six-classroom school on the existing school site. This development will ensure an appropriate learning environment for the pupils of the area for many years to come.

As the Senator will be aware, from February 2008 all major public capital works must use the new public works contracts and, accordingly, the school was informed that the tender documents for this project would have to be revised prior to proceeding to the invitation of tender. The revised tender documents have recently been received in the Department and once it is established that they are in order, the school will be authorised to progress to the invitation of tender.

Additionally, in January and February 2009, the Minister announced a further 53 projects that will be proceeding to site this year which, upon completion, will create more than 22,000 places by way of new schools, extensions to existing schools and refurbished schools. This year, a record €653 million will be invested in the school building programme. The 25 major projects which were announced in September to proceed to tender or re-tender and on to construction, along with the further 53 projects announced over the past seven weeks, represent a very significant amount of new business for the construction industry at a time of severe contraction in that sector. The more competitive environment in the construction sector will allow the Department to maximise the return for the capital resources invested in the school building programme. Our increased spend this year demonstrates the Government’s desire to continue investing in the productive capacity of the economy, to create construction jobs and to provide school children and teachers with the best educational environment in which to learn and work.

In February 2009, the Minister also announced details of 25 major school building projects that are now to start architectural planning. The majority of these projects were previously approved in principle to enter architectural planning. These projects have been selected to start architectural planning now because, once completed, they will provide a significant number of extra permanent school places in areas where demographic demand is great. In addition to these major construction projects, the Minister will shortly reveal full details of this year’s summer works scheme and a new plan to improve energy efficiency in schools.

[624]I thank the Senator again for raising the issue of the school building project for Springdale national school and I am pleased both to be able to give him good news in regard to this particular project and to outline the extensive programme of work which will be carried out under the school building programme this year.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: Do I take it there will not be any question of waiting to see if the school is on a list at some future date and that there will be an automatic authorisation to progress to the invitation of tender once it is established the documents are in order?

  Deputy Barry Andrews: That seems to be evident from the response prepared by the Department. The reply notes that once it is established the documents are in order, the school will be authorised to progress to the invitation of tender. That seems to be the intention.