Wednesday, 25 October 2000
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Finneran: I welcome the Minister to the House. I have raised this matter as a result of representations made to me by the VEC in County Roscommon, the parents' council, teachers and people in general in the Elphin area who are extremely concerned with the slow progress in the provision of the new accommodation at Elphin post-primary school.
Elphin post-primary school has 104 pupils and 14 teachers, with 11 subjects at junior cycle and a full range of subjects at leaving certificate level. Unfortunately, the school must work from two campuses which are a half mile apart. At all times two classes, with 20 in each class, must be located on a campus half a mile from the main building. This is a totally unsatisfactory method of addressing the needs of the pupils in the Elphin area. It has a knock-on consequence in that many pupils are leaving the area to attend schools outside Elphin because of the inappropriate facilities provided. Parents feel aggrieved that their children have to walk half a mile along the streets of Elphin in rain, frost and snow to get from one classroom to another. I know of nowhere else where this type of operation would be allowed continue.
As far back as January 1999 a deputation consisting of the chief executive officer and chairman of Roscommon VEC, Monsignor Travers, the bishop's representative, representatives of the school's board of management, parents' representatives and public representatives met with the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, and outlined the difficult situation. The second campus, bad and all as it was, was no longer going to be available as there is only a yearly lease on it and it is costing a large amount of money. Therefore, it is probable that the facility currently being used will not be available to Elphin post-primary school in the future.
The school identified a site which was available and which has been bought and paid for, but the necessary further steps have not been taken. While some movement has taken place, it has been at a very slow pace which has resulted in great anger in the area.
 The representations I have had are strong. I would be negligent in my duty as a public representative if I did not outline in stark terms what has been brought home to me by parents' representatives, teachers and the chief executive officer of the VEC. They feel that the necessary strands are not being pulled together, and that is why I raise this issue. I ask the Minister to give this matter priority and that the totally unacceptable situation in Elphin be immediately addressed so that the town and catchment area has proper facilities.
A site has been provided and we are awaiting plans and then a contract to provide new accommodation. It is not a major task for either the office of the Minister, which I know has great interest in it, or the building section of the Department. It is a matter of bringing all the strands together so the wishes of the people, and the decision of the former and current Ministers to provide accommodation, is put into practice.
The Cathaoirleach comes from the area and I know he fully supports this proposal. He has attended the public meetings and the deputations in support of the parents, teachers and pupils, as have other public representatives. Two years have passed since the application was made to extend the school and since the first deputation to the Minister. We need action and a positive response. I must report back to the parents and the board of management next week and I do not want to return empty handed.
First, I would like to outline the background to this project. Our Department received an application from County Roscommon VEC in February 1999 for the provision of an extension to Elphin vocational school. The VEC also requested funding from the Department to purchase a site at the rear of the school to accommodate the proposed extension. The VEC was subsequently requested to complete an ST1 Form and an educational worksheet. These are policy documents that set out a school's curricular options and are required by the Department of  Education and Science to determine the need for additional accommodation at a school.
Following an analysis of these documents by a senior inspector within our Department, a schedule of accommodation for the extension to Elphin vocational school was prepared in July 1999. The new extension will provide a number of specialist rooms, a library, a general purpose/dining cum PE area, staff accommodation, toilets and stores. In total, the new extension will provide a total of 952 square metres of additional accommodation at the school and will represent a substantial investment in the educational infrastructure of the region.
Additionally, this project will be funded under the national development plan. I am pleased to inform the House that County Roscommon VEC acknowledged acceptance of the schedule of accommodation in October 1999. A design team was duly appointed by the VEC to commence the architectural planning process and this is ongoing.
Roscommon VEC has recently been requested to instruct its design team to prepare and submit a stage 1 outline – site suitability, briefing and site report – to the Department's building unit. This submission is to incorporate pre-stage 2 – outline sketch scheme – options. Once this report is received and evaluated by staff in the building unit of the Department in Tullamore, a planning and briefing meeting will be held with a view to progressing the project.
Regarding the VEC's request for funding from the Department for the purchase of a site to accommodate the new extension at Elphin vocational school, I am pleased to relate that the Department provided £30,000 for the purchase of this single acre site last July. I can assure the Cathaoirleach, Senator Finneran and Members that every effort will be made to have the architectural planning of this important project expedited.
I listened with great interest to what Senator Finneran said. He has made an excellent case on behalf of the people of Elphin. This is obviously a very worthy educational project which deserves our full support. I intend having an immediate discussion with the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, regarding the matter and will request that priority be given to having a positive conclusion so proper facilities are provided as quickly as possible for the children of the Elphin area.
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