Wednesday, 1 March 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Byrne: I welcome the Minister and wish him every success in his post. This issue concerns the town of Cahir, which is in great need of accommodation for its students. We have put much work into the proposed development  of a community college there. Cahir has three second level schools — the Convent of Mercy, the vocational education school and St Joseph's College. The latter has been under lay management since July 1994 and administered by the vocational education committee. New school accommodation has been urgently needed for many years as classrooms in the schools consist mostly of prefabricated buildings and rented accommodation. The prefabricated buildings are in a sorry state. The accommodation in St. Joseph's was so bad they had to move out of it last summer and rent accommodation; it was a fire hazard.
Some 12 years ago the vocational education committee was about to build a new vocational school and had the plans drawn up. The Department of Education stepped in and said they might be able to solve three problems in one. Following lengthy negotiations on rationalisation and amalgamation involving the vocational education committee, St. Joseph's, the Convent of Mercy and the Department of Education, it was agreed by all parties in 1988 that a community college would be provided in Cahir. We all welcomed this. It was agreed that the board of management of the college would comprise the representatives of the Sisters of Mercy and the vocational education committee as well as parents and teachers.
Planning for the college commenced and a ten acre site on the Cashel Road, Cahir, was purchased by the vocational education committee in 1990. The Department had agreed that the college should provide accommodation for over 800 students. I thank the Minister and the officials in the building section of the Department of Education for their co-operation and help. Very little time has been lost since the site was purchased and planning permission sought. I acknowledge the great co-operation between the Department, the vocational education committee and all concerned.
The planning process is currently at stage five — the preparation of bills of  quantities. It is expected that these will be ready in early to mid-March. The bills have then to be examined by the Department and, when found satisfactory, approval is given for the invitation of tender. I hope the Minister has good news for me tonight as this process should be completed by early summer.
It is vital that funding be made available so that the construction of the college can commence in the summer of 1995 because of the condition of the prefabricated classrooms and the cost of rented accommodation. As a member of the board of St. Joseph's College and a member of the vocational education committee, I appeal to the Minister to do everything possible to speed up the process. It would be greatly appreciated by teachers, parents and everybody involved in the three schools. I hope he will have good news for me this evening.
Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Allen): I am grateful for this opportunity to clarify the position concerning the proposed new community college for Cahir and the question of whether the project will be included in the 1995 building programme.
Initially, I would like to give some details regarding the background to this case. In the Cahir post-primary centre there are three second level schools: St. Joseph's secondary school, the Convent of Mercy and the vocational school. Following prolonged discussions at local level, agreement was reached in January 1989 with the school authorities for the provision of a single post-primary school for this town. It was decided that the amalgamated school would be a community college under the control of County Tipperary Vocational Education Committee South Riding and it would be constructed on a site which the vocational education committee purchased in 1990.
It was originally envisaged that the new school would cater for 665 permanent pupil places and that any additional short term needs would be  catered for in temporary accommodation. Planning of the new building proceeded on this basis and in February 1992 the outline sketch scheme was approved. Subsequently a developed sketch scheme was approved and in November 1993 the vocational education committee was authorised to proceed with the detailed design for the project. However, in February 1994, following a review of the needs of the area and recent information on the demographic trends, the projected enrolments were reviewed upwards and it was decided that the school would now have 800 permanent pupil places. As a result, the schedule of accommodation had to be increased and the plans had to be revised to include the additional area required.
The current position concerning the planning of the new school is that the revised detailed design incorporating the increased accommodation has been approved by my Department and the bill of quantities is now awaited from the vocational education committee. When these have been received and examined by the Department the next stage will be the invitation of tenders. However, as with all capital projects, the timing of the invitation of tenders and the placing of the contract are dependent on the availability of capital resources. The question of when construction might commence is therefore a matter which will be considered in the context of the building programme for 1995 which has not yet been finalised.
The programme is currently being considered in light of the capital funding available and having regard to other commitment and priorities that have to be met. Accordingly I am not in a position at this stage to indicate precisely when tenders will be invited by the vocational education committee or when construction will start. I would like, however, to assure the Senator that the Department is fully aware of the urgent need for this new school and it was because of this that last year the Minister for Education designated this project as a priority for architectural  planning. As this is still proceeding I will ensure that every effort is made to complete it as soon as possible so that the new building can commence at the earliest opportunity.
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