Adjournment Debate. - Donegal Town Vocational School.

I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to raise this matter agus má tá cead agam ba mhaith liom cúpla bomaite a thabhairt do mo chomhleacaí, an Teachta McGinley.

An bhfuil sé sin aontaithe? Aontaithe.

The Abbey vocational school was built in 1982 and since then the numbers of pupils attending it have increased. A total of 950 pupils now attend the vocational school. Two new extensions to the school were provided by the Department of Education and in 1994 agreement was reached between Donegal vocational education committee and the Department of Education to provide another extension which would be called phase IV. This was met with great enthusiasm by the parents, teachers and board of management of the school, of which I am chairperson. Prior to that the parents had given a commitment that they would provide funding towards the provision of this extension which was urgently needed. We were told by the Department at that time that it would provide the entire funding for the project and we believed the project would have been completed by now. This project has been toing and froing between Donegal vocational education committee, the design team and the Department of Education but, as yet, we have not received sanction to proceed any further with our programme.

As chairperson of the board of management I can confirm we had a difficult meeting recently during which it was decided that the Minister would be contacted about the urgency of this project. It is unfortunate to see the enthusiasm of the people of Donegal town dashed once again. Phase IV is vital for the educational development of our school. We will be unable to cope with the increased numbers in the school in future years. Pupils need room to move. If the Minister of State were in the school at the end of the school day he would see the safety of the children is in jeopardy because of the huge numbers. It is a pity that I should have to come in here and ask him to intervene to have the extension sanctioned. Some decisions taken in the provision of phase III of the building have turned out to be expensive mistakes, for example, suspended ceilings were requested in phase III but were not provided. Now we have to request the paltry sum of £5,000 to provide proper ceilings so that the acoustics allow the teachers to teach. Teachers are finding it so difficult to teach in the extension that they will have to withdraw from the building that was provided at huge expense.

Will the Minister sanction stages II and III immediately so that we can proceed to contract document stage and seek tenders? It is very disappointing that we are not able to proceed with the project.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Coughlan, for sharing her time with me. I am in total agreement with the case she has made on the urgency of sanctioning stages II and III of phase IV of the Abbey vocational school.

I, too, am a member of Donegal Vocational Education Committee and can confirm that this issue comes up at every meeting and has the support of all the members. The Abbey vocational school is the only secondary school in the Donegal town catchment area, which covers a wide area from Inver right up to Laghey and from Donegal to Drimarone out to Barnesmore. Donegal town is a developing town. The people's patience is almost exhausted. I know there was disagreement over the submitted plans but I hope this will be sorted out before long so that the extension can proceed.

The Abbey vocational school is the flagship vocational school in the county. It is very well kept. Deputy Coughlan and I had the opportunity to visit and address the pupils there last year. It was a very pleasant experience. It was a joy to see the commitment of the pupils and teachers to the school and its surroundings which are beautifully landscaped. The school is on the left as you approach from the Ballyshannon-Bundoran road and a miniature replica of the old abbey is located in its grounds. This proposed extension will be the crowning glory of the school. As a Deputy for the constituency, I urge the Minister of State to get his officials to move immediately on the processing of stages II and III. We would all like to reach the fourth and fifth tendering stages so that work can commence as soon as possible.

I thank the Deputies for raising the matter. This gives me the opportunity to outline the position of phase IV of Abbey vocational school and assure the House of my commitment to the continuance of architectural planning of the project.

Initially, I would like to give some brief details of the background to this case. Abbey vocational school is the only second level school in Donegal town. The present school was built in three phases, the third phase, as the Deputies are aware, being completed only recently.

Having regard to the continued increase in enrolments my Department approved additional accommodation, amounting to approximately 970m². This extension is more familiarly known to the Deputies as phase IV and is expected to cost something in the region of £750,000.

Stages II and III documentation required under my Department's design team procedures was submitted late last summer for formal approval by my Department. As a result of detailed examination of this submission by my Department's technical staff, it was revealed that there was an apparent breach of the Department's area and cost limits. Informal discussions and consultations with members of the design team followed seeking full explanations for these excesses and suggestions as to how these could be brought within acceptable limits. I am very pleased to inform the Deputies that I expect the matter to be satisfactorily resolved and a decision conveyed to County Donegal Vocational Education Committee in the next fortnight.