Adjournment Debate. - School Accommodation.

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for affording me the opportunity to raise this important issue. Malahide Community School is one of the largest and most successful post-primary schools in Fingal. It has a current enrolment of 1,002 students with a projected enrolment of 1,080 from September 1999. Given the difficulties the board of management and staff are encountering with the Department regarding the delay in resolving major outstanding matters in the school, the parents' council is threatening to take action publicly to highlight the problems.

There are four main areas of concern, the first being the need for a science room. This has been on the agenda for some time. The science facilities are totally inadequate and classes must take turns to avail of the existing facilities. How can teachers be expected to teach science subjects effectively in an ordinary classroom?

The PE hall, which was used extensively by the school and the wider community, was closed recently by the board of management on the instructions of the Department of Education and Science because the asbestos roof was leaking and was deemed unsafe. This is causing major problems for the operation of the school. Some students must be bussed to the Portmarnock sports and leisure club at substantial additional cost to the board of management. The remaining students do their PE in the yard or on the open space, and neither they nor their teachers are looking forward to the dark, damp afternoons. Can they be blamed?

The septic tank is a matter of grave concern to the parents and teachers but the officials appear to have been dragging their feet for the past ten years. It must be piped out every week at a cost of £350 a time and it is a health hazard. This matter must be taken seriously and tackled immediately — there is no benefit in waiting for Fingal County Council to come up with proposals which may take years to implement. A private treatment plant must be installed immediately, as is happening elsewhere across the country, pending the school being connected to an upgraded Malahide sewage treatment plant some time in the future.

The next matter is the school extension. The projected number for September 1999 is 1,080 pupils and it is imperative that the necessary steps are taken to have permanent accommodation ready by August 1999 at the latest. Apart from the immediate requirements, the issue of how large the school should be allowed to grow in the interests of the best education of the students must be addressed by the board of management and the Department. A school with such high student numbers should be entitled to a second vice-principal post and I strongly recommend to the Minister that such an allocation be made, if possible by next September.

As a former member of the board of management I compliment the principal and teachers of Malahide Community School for their commitment to the education of the students over the years under such difficult circumstances. Parents are rightly demanding action. On their behalf I look forward to a favourable response.

I apologise for the absence of the Minister for Education and Science — unfortunately he had a prior commitment. He wishes to thank the Deputy for raising the matter because it gives him the opportunity to outline the current position regarding the proposed works at Malahide Community School. This is a co-educational school with a current enrolment of 1,002 pupils. The Minister is aware that the school authorities have a number of applications with the Department at the moment.

In November 1997 the Department received an application from the school regarding repairs to the roof in the sports hall. The Department commissioned a report and it was decided that for health and safety reasons the hall should be closed pending the replacement of the roof. Officials in the planning and building unit are treating this project as extremely urgent and have instructed the consultant architect to seek tenders for these works immediately. This process is now under way. As with all applications for public funding, certain technical evaluations must be carried out and public procurement procedures must be followed. It is intended that this work will proceed as quickly as possible.

In June 1998 the principal made a request for additional accommodation at the school due to the growing population trends in the Malahide area. In order to process this application further, a form ST1, which is the Department's official application for post-primary accommodation, was forwarded to and completed by the school in July 1998. This request is currently being examined in terms of enrolment, future viability and cost implications within the Department. The Deputy can be assured that this examination will be dealt with and a decision conveyed to the school authorities as expeditiously as possible.

An application from Malahide community school for the provision of a science laboratory is at an advanced stage of architectural planning. A number of minor issues on the tender documentation are being clarified by the design team. When these issues have been clarified to the satisfaction of his Department, the question of proceeding to tender will be considered in terms of available resources and completing priorities.

The school has also indicated that there has been longstanding problem with the drainage system in the area. Following a meeting with the school authorities in August 1998, the Department wrote to the county engineer in Fingal County Council to inquire about its plans in relation to extending the existing system to include the area in which the community school is located. The Department is currently in contact with the local authority in this regard and it is intended to hold a further meeting with it shortly.

The Department is also aware that the school is experiencing problems with heating in the PE hall. The current position is that the planning and building unit has requested the school to submit a more specific report regarding the type of heating problem occurring in the school. This response is currently awaited.

With regard to leaks in the flat roof at the school, the Department is currently monitoring this problem and has requested that a maintenance manual and details of the roof guarantee be submitted to the Department immediately.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 10 November 1998.