Wednesday, 10 March 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Neville: I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to raise this issue, the refurbishment of Kilfinane primary school. I welcome the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, to the House. I was glad to be with him in Kilmallock last Friday. He was more than welcome and I hope he enjoyed his visit to the area.
I now refer to an area not far from Kilmallock, it is the next parish to it. This is a very important issue for the pupils, teachers and the community at large. They wish to ensure the development and structural refurbishment of Kilfinane primary school is completed as quickly as possible.
Kilfinane primary school is a six teacher rural school with a shared remedial teacher, and the current enrolment is 163. In January 1998, the board of management applied to the Department of Education and Science for a grant to carry out major structural refurbishment at the school. In January 1999, it received a reply stating that due to restricted site size and falling enrolment trends, classroom extension and conversion would not proceed. A grant was provided for indoor toilets and a staffroom was sanctioned.
 The decision is unacceptable to the board of management, parents, staff and pupils of the school. They strongly reject this decision and refute the grounds on which it was made. The extension and conversion applied for in January 1998 is urgently needed and nothing less will meet the needs of the school community. I urge the Minister to re-examine this matter carefully, the case has merit and should be responded to positively.
At present the following unacceptable conditions prevail in the school. Four of the six classrooms are too small. There is no space in these classrooms for sink units, a computer or TV trolley or for storage cupboards. One of these classrooms is inadequately ventilated and children regularly complain of headaches. It is proposed to amalgamate these classrooms into two large ones, a staffroom and a storage room. The school is the base school for the remedial teacher. At present the remedial teacher's room is also the staffroom, the store room for all equipment, the music room and the library. Consequently, this room is more suitable as a remedial teacher's room and the plan is to provide a separate room for the remedial teacher. The school has neither a PE hall nor an all purpose room. There is a central hall in the school but because it is small and the main thoroughfare through the school, it is highly unsuitable as an assembly or a PE hall. The plan enlarges this hall and partially eliminates it as a thoroughfare.
The present building dates back to 1909 and the school is housed in a converted church. It consists of six small classrooms, three of which are only 35 square meters. There is a tiny ancillary room, which is used as a library, a tiny office and cloakroom. There is also a small central area which can be accessed from the classrooms. There is no staffroom and the toilet blocks are situated outdoors. The playing space outdoors is very limited.
In addition, three of the classrooms are seven by five meters and house classes of 27, 28 and 29 pupils. The partitions between the classrooms are wafer thin consisting of narrow timber boards or glass and fail to be sound proof which, therefore, causes difficulties for teaching and learning. There is widespread evidence of plaster decay due the dampness. The timber floors have begun to sag in many areas. Due to the building design, ceilings are very high and temperature extremes are common. There is evidence of dry rot and many of the windows can no longer be opened leading to a lack of adequate ventilation. The playing space is also inadequate for the pupils and there is no drinking water available to them. Sinks are provided only in three of the rooms.
There is no staffroom, proper library, principal's office or remedial teacher work base. On occasions, there is also evidence of rodent infestation. There is an urgent need to re-examine the decision of the Department of Education and Sci ence not to fund the extension proposal of the board of management.
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): I am glad the Deputy has given me the opportunity to outline the position as regards Kilfinane primary school. I thank him for his kind remarks in relation to my visit to Kilmallock last week, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The hospitality shown was appreciated and I was impressed with the strong education provision in Kilmallock.
I am aware that this school has a staffing level of a principal and five assistant teachers, with a shared remedial teacher. The current enrolment is 163 pupils. The school's accommodation comprises six classrooms built around an assembly area, a staffroom cum remedial room, an office, teacher's toilet and cloakrooms. The boys' and girls' toilets are outdoors in a separate block. There is a preservation order on the school building which was built in 1909 and is located in The Square, Kilfinane. This would have to be taken into account in any renovation plans.
In 1998 an application was received from the school by my Department for grant-aid to assist with the cost of providing a one classroom extension, indoor toilets, the conversion of the three smaller classrooms and the extension of the play area into one and the construction of a one classroom extension, including toilet facilities.
The school was visited by an officer of the Office of Public Works. He reported that due to the restricted nature of the site, there is not enough space to provide a classroom extension. There is space, however, to provide a small extension comprising indoor toilets and a staff room. On 20 January 1999, my Department wrote to the school confirming that grant-aid would be provided towards the provision of this extension and advised the school that the Office of Public Works had been requested to provide professional advice for the project.
The Department advised the school that due to the limited nature of the site and the fact that the school's enrolments are in decline, it was not proposed to provide a classroom extension. That is what my officials communicated to the school at the time and of which I would not have been aware. The school manager responded on 17 February indicating that the Department's proposals were discussed at a board of management meeting and were not considered to be satisfactory. The manager forwarded an alternative plan which would involve extension by building upwards. He also forwarded a copy of a report prepared by the INTO which identified a number of features which it regarded as sub-standard. The Department will now review the case to see how best the problems can be solved. The school manager was advised on 2 March 1999 that we would review the application.
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