Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I welcome the Minister of State. I welcome the opportunity to raise the need for the Minister for Education and Science to outline his response to requests for school extensions, development and refurbishments in a number of schools in the Lucan area. These include St. Thomas’s national school, Scoil Mhuire national school and Lucan Community College.
On 12 February the Minister for Education and Science announced 43 new school building projects throughout the country. Remarkably, not one of those schools is in Lucan or even in the Dáil constituency of Dublin Mid-West. There is no question that there is not enough transparency in the way decisions on school refurbishments are taken.
Lucan has experienced a major growth in population and it is clear the educational requirements in Lucan are fast expanding. There is considerable pressure on the local schools and it is very difficult for those schools that are waiting to hear from the Department without having any clear outline of when they are likely to get the extensions or developments that are in process. Many are taking on new lists for enrolments next year. It is very hard for them to plan new classes because of the lack of information coming back to them from the Department of Education and Science. The needs of these schools have been overlooked.
I mentioned only three schools tonight, but all are in need of urgent attention from the Department. They have been waiting too long and I believe they were left in limbo. I would like to see more transparency in the decisions that are made. It would be a help to return to the system whereby schools know when they are likely to hear from the Department and when development will take place. There is an economic downturn but we have been told by the Government that the schools refurbishment programme will go ahead.
I hope the Minister of State will provide some clarity for these excellent schools in Lucan and that he will cast some light on the criteria behind the current school building list which ignores the educational needs of those schools and the children who attend them.
Deputy Seán Power: I take this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe. I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to this House the enormous work which has been carried out by my Department at schools in the Lucan area in recent years and the extent of work planned over coming years in order to meet the continuing demand for pupil places.
There are 14 primary schools in Lucan. Recent State investment in primary schools in the area includes two new state-of-the-art multidenominational schools and a new gaelscoil which commenced operation in September 2005. In addition, and in the context of the Department’s recognition of Lucan’s rapidly developing status, a new eight-classroom primary school opened in the Clonburris area of Lucan in September 2008. The delivery of an eight-classroom building for this school, under a fast-track delivery approach, is the first phase of a two-phase building project. When the new school building is fully developed it will comprise 16 mainstream classrooms and appropriate ancillary space. These interventions alone amount to a multi-million euro investment to address the needs of the Lucan area and they have significantly impacted on the demand for pupil places at primary level.
With regard to the two primary schools specifically mentioned by the Senator, first, a project for the expansion of Scoil Mhuire into a 24-classroom school is in the early stages of architectural planning. In this regard, the Department recently approved the stage 1 submission, namely, site suitability, site report and the initial sketch scheme. It has given approval to the school to move the project to the next stage of architectural planning, namely, stage 2A, developed sketch scheme. Second, St. Thomas’s junior primary school shares a campus with St. Anne’s senior primary school. It is the Department’s intention to provide each of these schools with 20 classrooms overall. The project is awaiting the appointment of a design team.
The four post-primary providers in the immediate Lucan area have a combined capacity of 3,000 pupil places. The combined enrolment of the schools in September 2008 was 2,653 pupils. There is, therefore, current surplus capacity of approximately 350 pupil places. To accommodate future demand for pupil places in the general Lucan area, a new post-primary school catering for 1,000 students is under construction in Adamstown. The planned opening date for this school is September 2009.
Apart from this, and in order to further future proof post-primary provision, the Department plans to increase capacity at two of the post-primary schools in Lucan, namely, Lucan community college, one of the schools specifically mentioned by the Senator, and St. Joseph’s College. These plans will generate an extra 400 pupil places and will increase capacity at each of the schools to 1,000 pupil places.
In addition, the Department has asked South Dublin County Council to identify a site for further post-primary provision and it is the Department’s intention to develop this site, when acquired, in accordance with any continuing demand for pupil places in the context of competing priorities and the level of funding available.
With regard to the three projects specified by the Senator, it is also the Department’s intention to progress these, commensurate with the level of demand for school places in the area and, again, in the context of available resources.
I thank the Senator again for raising this matter and assure her that in considering the demand for primary and post-primary pupil places in Lucan against the places available and the interventions recently made or planned, the Department is satisfied that the immediate primary and post-primary needs of the Lucan area can be met.
The Minister for Education and Science wishes to assure the Senator that through increased Government capital allocations for the school building programme and the improved planning and delivery processes that have been put in place by the Department in recent years, the need for extra school places is being identified wherever they arise and addressed as expeditiously as possible. Areas such as Lucan are kept under continuous review for this purpose.
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