Schools Building Projects.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle as ucht an deis seo a thabhairt dom an t-ábhar seo a ardú sa Dáil anocht. O'Carolan college in Nobber is one of the few entirely rural second level schools in Leinster. It is situated in the beautiful, but small, village of Nobber and is named after the famous man of music, Turlough O'Carolan. The school having grown from relatively small beginnings is housed in a building provisionally designed for 250 students. Under the great leadership of its current principal, Brian Goggins, the school has grown from 179 pupils in 2002 to approximately 415 today. This remarkable increase is much greater than the rate of growth of population of County Meath. It is testament to the education that is provided by O'Carolan college and the work of all the teachers who have worked very hard in O'Carolan college and in the community over the years.

O'Carolan college in Nobber is situated in the heart of north Meath. Its catchment comes from parishes in County Meath such as Dromconrath, Nobber, Kilmainhamwood, Kingscourt in County Cavan, Kilbeg, Moynalty, Lobinstown, Kilberry and Rathkenny among others. It is an anchor for the entire north Meath community. The school continues to expand, but expects pupil numbers to stabilise at approximately 550 pupils in 2010, which is more than double the number of students the school was originally designed to cope with. There are eight prefabs and four more are expected next year. Its corridors and current entrances and exits are very small and not suited to the number of pupils using them.

Pupils, parents and teachers of O'Carolan college are therefore anxious that the school get the major building works it needs. I am deeply committed to helping them in any way I can to move this building project forward. It is badly needed. In addition with the population stabilising, which means that the school population will stabilise in the next few years, I do not expect to be coming back — nor does the school expect to be coming back — looking for more after that. When we think of rapidly developing areas, we do not tend to think of rural north Meath and a unique second level school such as O'Carolan college. However, the college is rapidly developing, as is the area.

The college is providing a great education, but needs a building commensurate with that. The school motto is "Saothar agus Sonas" which means work and happiness or work and prosperity. If the Minister does some of the saothar there will certainly be considerable sonas in O'Carolan college and throughout north Meath. I am urging the Minister to progress this building project as soon as he can.

I call on the Minister of State to bring us saothar agus sonas.

I thank the Deputy for continuing to champion the many causes in north Meath and in particular this issue. I am taking the Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. This affords me the opportunity to outline to this House the current position with regard to the proposed building project for O'Carolan college, Nobber, County Meath. The school is a co-educational facility operating under the aegis of County Meath VEC. It had an enrolment of 359 pupils as of 1 September 2007. In February 2006, the VEC asked the Department of Education and Science to examine the accommodation at O'Carolan college with a view to making capital funding available for a refurbishment and extension project. In common with all applications for large-scale capital funding, this application was assessed taking into account all the relevant factors, including enrolment and demographic trends in the area. An accommodation brief to cater for a long-term projected enrolment of 500 pupils was subsequently agreed with the VEC.

The area of the proposed new accommodation amounts to approximately 5,000 sq. m, which includes general classrooms, specialist rooms and an autism unit, along with a general purpose and dining area and other ancillary accommodation. The project will also include refurbishment work to the existing school building.

Under the published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects, each application for capital funding is assigned a band rating, which reflects the type of works needed at a school and the urgency attached to them. There are four band ratings in all, with band 1 being the highest and band 4 the lowest. Each band rating has a number of sub-categories which more specifically describes the type of works needed and the urgency attaching to them.

Band 1 rated projects address accommodation needs in rapidly developing areas where either no accommodation exists or where the existing accommodation is not sufficient to meet the needs of a growing population. It also addresses the provision of accommodation for special needs pupils, structurally unsound buildings and the provision of accommodation to underpin rationalisations. A band 1.2 rating has been assigned to the project for O'Carolan college, which reflects the fact that specialist accommodation is needed for pupils with special needs.

The next step for the project is the appointment of a design team. In this regard, this was already announced by the previous Minister for Education and Science. Unfortunately, due to the level of demand on the Department of Education and Science capital budget, it has not been possible to progress the appointment of a design team to date. However, the band rating assigned to the project is such that it is well positioned to proceed once the requisite funding is available.

In the meantime, the Department has provided temporary accommodation at the school to cater for increasing enrolments as an interim measure. It is open to the VEC to apply for further such accommodation until the Department is in a position to carry out the project for permanent accommodation.

The Department of Education and Science's capital allocation for next year will amount to €581 million. This will allow it to continue to significantly invest in primary and post-primary school buildings throughout the country, provide additional school places and continue the Department's programme of modernising existing schools. Annual capital resources of this magnitude have allowed the Department to deliver over 7,800 building projects under the last national development plan alone. The Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, looks forward to building on this unprecedented level of work with an allocation of €4.5 billion for school buildings under the current plan.

The Minister wants to assure the Deputy that the O'Carolan college project will be considered for progression in this context, taking its band rating into account and as the necessary funding becomes available. I again thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to outline the current position to the House.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 20 November 2008.