I appreciate the opportunity to raise this very important matter for my constituency, specifically Waterville and its hinterland in County Kerry. I was at a well-attended public meeting on Monday night last week at St. Finian's national school in Waterville.
There was not standing room in the school. The meeting was convened to seek support in the locality for a campaign for a new school. The support from the community was evident. A new school is very much needed and long overdue.
The State has never provided a school for the people of Waterville. The current building in which the children of the village and surrounding areas attend school was constructed by the British Government in 1913 and very little work has been done to it since. Since 2008, approximately €300,000 has been spent on maintaining the school and basic capital investment. It was, however, sticking plaster expenditure as there was nothing significant to show for the investment. The money went into a very old building that is very expensive to maintain.
Waterville is bucking the trend for many rural communities as it is doing really well. It is a place that is becoming very vibrant and where jobs are being created, which is wonderful to see. However, with that comes an increase in the population in the area and the school population is no different from the general population in that it is growing and will grow further. What is now a four-teacher school will soon become a five-teacher school. The Department keeps telling the school authorities in Waterville that an extension is the only viable option available. The problem is that the school is located on an extremely confined site of 1.5 acres. The site is on an extremely busy road that is a busy tourism route. Many large vehicles also travel on it. If an extra classroom is provided on the site, there will be no play area and no outside recreational area for the children. That is simply not good enough in this day and age.
The cost of renovating and extending a building that is already more than 100 years old is astronomical and would not be money well spent. A greenfield site is readily available in the village to the school. I support the view of the school community that an extension is not adequate and that a new school is the only solution for Waterville. I know that I speak for all of the Kerry Deputies when I say this because they have all expressed their support for the campaign. The Minister has met the school principal, Gearóid Moran, who is doing excellent work, while his team of staff are doing wonderful work. However, they are confined by the facility in which they are operating and can only do so much. The environment is simply not responsive to the needs of modern education. If we are serious about giving each and every child a top class education, we must prioritise schools such as the one in Waterville for replacement.
Waterville is not in the commuter belt, but it has the same issues faced by many schools in it. The building is inadequate and needs work. A new building is required. The Department must move beyond the current situation where it has sought drawings and further information and acknowledge that a new build is the only way to go. I ask the Minister to spearhead the campaign to try to give the people of Waterville and future generations what they so thoroughly deserve.