Wednesday, 11 December 1996
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Reynolds: The provision of a library and an administrative facility at Sligo regional technical college is one of the most serious and important projects in the north-west region. Having been contacted by students attending the college and the governing body concerning the  recent reply to a parliamentary question tabled by Deputy Bree indicating that necessary funding may not be provided for the construction of a library and an administrative facility in 1997, I took the opportunity to visit Sligo regional technical college on Monday. I was shocked by the appalling standard of library facilities at the college. I understand the college has worked closely with the Department of Education over the past 18 months with a view that the project would be ready to go to tender by the end of this year or in early 1997. The apparent shortfall in funding suggests that this is not now the case.
Given that this country prides itself on its superior educational standards, it is not good enough that the existing inadequate library facilities designed to accommodate a student population of 1,000 is expected to serve 2,500 at present and 3,000 in the near future. The recommended guidelines suggest one library space for every four students. In Sligo regional technical college there is one space for every 13 students — a damning statistic.
The increase in the number of students using the library can be deduced from the following statistics: 910 students in September 1995-96; 940 students in September 1996-97; 2,380 in October 1995-96 and 2,456 students in October 1996-97. The library security gate counter keeps a record of the number entering the book stack area through the security gate at the library information desk. The figure regularly exceeds 4,000 per week and this year it has already exceeded 4,500. Numbers regularly exceed 1,000 per day on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — the busiest days. On Tuesday, 5 November 1996, the number entering the book stack area was 1,129 and on Wednesday, 6 November, this number increased to 1,260. This is the equivalent of 21 60 student classes in an 11 hour period in an area the size of an average classroom which is already packed with library materials and where space is very limited. The counter system does not record reading room usage where space is at a premium and where students are under constant pressure simply to find a seat. In many instances those unable to do so resort to nearby classrooms which are inappropriate for library study.
Among the library's problems are health and safety, quality of air and space for manual handling and storage. The larger library office in Sligo regional technical college is roughly 24 meters square. The guidelines on health and safety for office workers recommend 4.65 metres square as the absolute minimum personal space for a worker. The guidelines say work stations should be comfortable, with safe and suitable chairs and sufficient space. This would exclude space taken up by fixtures such as presses and filing cabinets. These guidelines would meet the absolute minimum space requirement for the regional technical college library if it were not  also used as the library work room and storage area with several cabinets and bays of shelving. There is also a large volume of material throughout plus a wide range of manual and computerised processes are carried out here.
Apart from office working conditions, the library has run out of options for storing back issues of journals and newly added book stock. Overflows are currently located in the front corridor, presses, converted back racks in the reading room and stacked in cardboard boxes along the library walls. A large portion of library stock is not on open access. The cardboard boxes have used up the remaining space which can safely be made available within the book stock area. The library will be forced to begin to throw out valuable material if extra shelving is not made available immediately. I compliment the teaching staff and students, who must endure these terrible conditions, on the excellent results they have achieved to date despite the lack of facilities.
I refer to the editorial in last week's Sligo Champion which was not written in a threatening manner but which conveyed the views of the people in the region. It said the areas Government representatives have not alone been made to look feeble and inept when it comes to fighting their own corner as regards funding for the regional technical college in Sligo, but they have also been abandoned to face the growing wrath of the public at the next general election when no amount of hand wringing will be accepted as an excuse for their failure thus far to deliver. Politicians take that view extremely seriously. The Sligo Champion is putting forward a view that is held by the vast majority of the electorate in the north-west.
I hope the Minister will take this opportunity to alleviate fears in the college and the region and give a commitment that the financial funding necessary for the provision of library and administrative facilities in Sligo regional technical college will be provided from the 1997 Estimates.
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to clarify the position regarding the provision of a library and administration building at the regional technical college, Sligo.
Over the past four years I have made available in excess of £5 million for investment in the college by way of a rolling capital investment programme. This programme included the upgrading of the science laboratories, extensive new infrastructure, the provision of a new multipurpose centre and technology buildings, the upgrading of equipment, the purchase of land and the adaptation of existing buildings.
More recently, I gave approval to the college authorities for the acquisition of additional land and buildings at a cost in excess of £500,000. The property, which almost directly adjoins the  college, comprises approximately ten acres of land and two buildings with a floor area of approximately 2,000 square metres. The acquisition will allow the college to consolidate on one campus courses which are currently housed in rented accommodation.
With regard to the specific matter of £2.6 million for the provision of a library and administration building, I am pleased to confirm that out of a total of £3.7 million allocated to the college under the European Regional Development Fund programme for capital developments, a sum of £2.2 million has been set aside and remains available for this project. I am aware, however, that the cost of the development proposed by the college, which also includes lecture theatres, is in excess of this amount.
Decisions in respect of any funding additional to the £2.2 million are being considered in the  context of other priorities nationally and overall resource constraints. The Senator will appreciate that such demands have to be examined in relation to all third level institutions and in particular the other ten regional technical colleges. The provision of the £2.2 million will, however, ensure that the rolling capital development programme for the college can continue in 1997.
I have directed the planning and building unit of my Department to ensure that all necessary steps are effected with a view to achieving, in conjunction with the college authorities, an early start to the project. I will convey any update on this matter to Senator Reynolds and to my party colleague, Deputy Bree, who also represents the area.
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