Schools Building Projects.

I welcome the opportunity of raising the important issue of the conditions for teachers and students at the national school in Kilfinane, County Limerick. I recently visited the school and saw at first hand the conditions that pertain there. I ask that the Minister immediately provide funding for the construction of a new school at Kilfinane.

It was made clear in the report of the Irish National Teachers Organisation that the facilities at the school are unsatisfactory and have been so for years. This school is the base for a remedial teacher who is shared among five schools. Her classroom, which is a cubicle partitioned off a room, is also used as a staff room, library and office. The resource teacher works in similar conditions. The disruption is continuous and not conducive to learning. It renders the teacher's job particularly difficult and places the children who learn in that environment at further disadvantage. There are no indoor PE facilities, general purpose room and place for children to leave their gear for outdoor games. The staff are enthusiastic to encourage the use of computers but with so little space it is extremely difficult. Toilet facilities for staff are inadequate, while the outdoor facilities for children are Dickensian. I doubt that the school building would pass examination by the Health and Safety Authority.

It is more than six years since representations were first made regarding improvements to this school. The feasibility study carried out clearly shows that a new building is the only viable option. A site has been acquired for this purpose. The Department of Education and Science has commissioned a feasibility study on the site and found it suitable. The staff of the school want what is best for the children of the parish. They also need practical working conditions to enable them to carry out their professional duties. They have found themselves frustrated over the years. The school has six teachers, a shared remedial teacher, a full-time resource teacher and a part-time resource teacher and 147 pupils.

In January 1998 the board of management applied to the Department of Education and Science for a grant to carry out major structural works and in 1999 it received a reply offering a grant for indoor toilets and a staff room. This was unacceptable and everybody in the area and in the Department of Education and Science now accepts that a replacement school is required. Approval for a new school was granted in February 2001. When I brought up this issue on the Adjournment three years ago the reply was that there was a need for a new school and because of this refurbishment could not go ahead.

The existing building dates back to 1909 – the school is housed in a converted church. It consists of six small classrooms, three of which are only 35 square metres in area. There is a tiny ancillary room which is used as a library and a tiny office and cloakroom. There is also a small central hall which can be accessed from the classrooms. Some of this hall space has had to be sacrificed to accommodate the secretary's office. There is no staff room and the toilets are situated outdoors. The playing space outdoors is very limited and because of this, teachers are concerned for the safety of the children.

Three of the classrooms are seven metres by five metres in area and house classes containing between 25 and 30 pupils. Partitions between the classrooms are wafer thin, consisting of narrow timber boards or glass, and fail to be soundproof, which causes difficulties for teaching and learning. The timber floors have begun to sag in many areas due to the building's design. Ceilings are very high and temperature extremes are common. The fact that the present school is situated on a steep slope also presents safety problems. There are many unavoidable drops and steps within the site, which are hazardous and always a cause of great concern to teacher and parents.

Local Government TDs claim that the delay in acquiring the site accounts for the lack of progress in providing the new school. We accept that the acquisition of the site was slow – it took from February 2001 to November 2002 – but that was completely outside the control of the board of management and the teachers. The Department knew about the school's problems in 1998 and 1999 and had acknowledged them with, for example, feasibility studies. It is now convenient for the Department to blame lack of progress on the delay in acquiring the site. Surely the primary school community in Kilfinane cannot be penalised for a delay over which nobody had control?

There is evidence of dry rot and many of the windows cannot be opened, leading to a lack of adequate ventilation. The playing space is also inadequate for the pupils and drinking water is not available to them. Sinks are provided in only three of the rooms. There is no staff room, proper library, principal's office or remedial teacher workbase. There is occasional evidence of rodent infestation. The Minister should immediately examine the proposals to construct this school and implement them.

I can outline to Deputy Neville the current position regarding the allocation of funding for school building projects in general, with a comment on this particular school. The Minister for Education and Science decided to publish the 2003 school building programme on the departmental website to give the maximum amount of information concerning the school's capital investment programme to managers, boards of management, principals, parents, students and all other interested parties. The criteria used for selecting projects were also published for the first time. This year's building programme amounts to €342.9 million, four times the amount allocated six years ago, and includes funding for temporary accommodation. The 2003 programme will deliver more than 140 large-scale projects at primary and post-primary level. In addition, hundreds of schools will benefit in some way from the capital programme by means of funding for minor projects and temporary accommodation and, of course, all primary schools benefit directly from the devolved grants scheme for minor works.

An application for a new school has been received from the management authorities of Kilfinane national school. However, available funding does not allow for the commencement of architectural planning for further large-scale projects this year. As to when individual projects can progress to architectural planning, that will depend on the budgetary allocation for 2004 and subsequent years, the rate of progress of existing projects in architectural planning and the priority afforded to each project by reference to the published criteria for prioritising large-scale building projects. In the meantime, the management authorities at individual schools should continue to use funds from their devolved grants to deal with urgent health and safety matters.

I accept what the Deputy has said. I can convey his views to the Minister, but there was obviously a long time between the feasibility study and the current stage. It was not possible to build any form of extension to the school. As the Deputy said, time moved on and it was difficult to find a new site, although it has now been secured. Architectural planning for the school has not yet commenced, which indicates that things are at a relatively early stage of planning.

So we are likely to be waiting years, to be honest.

I am not saying that. Rapid progress will have to be made. There has been a delay, which was nobody's fault. The possibilities of doing repairs or building an extension were investigated but because of the cluttered nature of the site, that was not possible. I will convey the Deputy's views to the Minister, but the project is at an early stage and approval for architectural planning is needed if it is to move fast.