Seanad Éireann - Volume 194 - 25 March, 2009

Schools Building Projects.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I wish the Minister of State a good evening.

  Deputy Seán Haughey: I am back again.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I hope the Minister has good news for me because I do not recall much good news on previous Adjournments.

I ask the Minister of State to inform the House, on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, when the proposed building project for Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, County Galway, will receive sanction from the Department. The board of management applied for a school extension ten years ago, but no action was taken. In subsequent years the original application was followed up, but no progress was made. In March 2007, 1,600 local people signed a petition highlighting the urgent need for a school extension, and in July 2007 the parents’ association [785]met the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, to seek his help. In September 2007 the Minister visited the school as promised. On 1 May 2008 the Minister arranged a meeting with the parents’ association and the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, so the school could highlight the urgent need for development. On that occasion the former Minister was presented with the petition containing 1,600 names and also 220 letters signed by the parents of children attending Scoil Mhuire, which are now on file.

During the past year other local TDs have asked questions regarding the lack of progress in the Department’s building unit. The response has been the standard one, and I do not want to hear this response again this evening:

An Application for capital funding towards the provision of a new school building has been received from the school authority. The long term projected staffing assessment and the further progression of the proposed building project will be considered on an ongoing basis in the context of my Department’s multi annual school building and modernisation project.

Currently, Scoil Mhuire has five prefabs, no library, no computer room, cramped facilities and a playground space which is being gradually eroded by the addition of new prefabs. On a recent visit to the school, I saw a learning support teacher working in a converted broom closet. The electrical system is in need of a complete overhaul and cannot cope with the load in winter; the heating system is similarly deficient. The school has doubled in size over the past few years and continues to grow.

Interestingly, at a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Science we had a first-of-its-kind presentation on school planning and the school building programme from Frank Wyse of the Department of Education and Science. He told me that Moycullen was a growing area and that there are more children in the zero to four age category than in the junior classes. This indicates that a major increase in pupil numbers is still to come. His conclusion was that various factors indicated that the issue of Moycullen should be addressed. His recommendation, based on CSO data, was that it was important to upgrade and extend. With that in mind, I ask the Minister to give some definite information on when the project will begin and to provide a timeframe. I also ask, if there are any hitches along the way, that these be addressed as a matter of urgency.

  Deputy Seán Haughey: I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the Government’s strategy for capital investment in education projects and also to outline the current position of Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, County Galway.

Modernising facilities in our existing building stock, as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth, is a significant challenge. The Government has shown consistent determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.

All applications for capital funding are assessed in the school 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. A [786]proposed building project moves through the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it.

There are four band ratings overall, of which band one is the highest and band four the lowest. Band one projects, for example, include the provision of buildings where none currently exists but there is a high demand for pupil places, while a band four project makes provision for desirable, but not necessarily urgent or essential facilities, such as a library or new sports hall.

For Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, County Galway, the original brief for this extension project was to provide sufficient accommodation for a long-term projected staffing of a principal, 12 mainstream class teachers and ancillary staff, and the project was assigned a band two rating. The Department has been contacted by the school authority regarding its projected long-term needs and is awaiting submission of a detailed proposal from the school and its patron in this regard.

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. The project for Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen, County Galway will be considered in the context of the Department’s multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. However, given the competing demands on the Department’s capital budget, it is not possible at this stage to be precise about when this project will go to construction.

The allocation for school buildings in 2009 is €656 million which 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 very real commitment of this Government to investing in school infrastructure and will permit the continuation of progress in the overall improvement of school accommodation. The Senator will understand that it is not possible to progress all projects at the same time. However, the Minister is committed to continuing to invest in school accommodation.

I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position regarding the school building project for Scoil Mhuire, Moycullen.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Can the Minister of State clarify if approval of the project has been delayed because the Department has not received a detailed proposal from the school on its long-term needs? If it had that, could it give a date for sanction?

  Deputy Seán Haughey: The Department has been contacted by the school authorities regarding the projected long-term needs and is awaiting submission of a detailed proposal from the school and its patron in this regard. Once we have that detailed proposal the project can be advanced further.