It is shocking to think that this refurbishment and extension was planned before my daughter attended St. Finian's community college. She is now in her second year of college and many of the issues at the school are probably as bad as they were when she was a pupil, if not considerably worse. Just before Christmas I received a letter from transition year students who are taking a particular interest in this issue. In their letter, they describe how several classrooms do not have any windows and that several windows in the school leak in bad weather, which has damaged student work and ICT equipment. They say that the roof leaks in wet weather, creating pools of water on the floor which is a health and safety risk. There are problems with ventilation in parts of the school which limits work in the science lab and home economics kitchens. Some classes do not have access to emergency exits, which is not in line with safety regulations. There is not enough space to accommodate 660 people and there is no Wi-Fi in the classrooms, which affects teaching and learning. This is a school in Dublin in 2019. It is a DEIS school, which means it is supposed to have extra resources and benefits.
When I raised some of these issues with the Minister for Education and Skills previously, I was utterly shocked to hear that the Department was "unaware of the scale" the problems in the school. Subsequent to that, students posted pictures of vegetation growing inside some of the classrooms online. Even then, the response of the Minister was that it was not possible to say when the project would proceed to tender, at least until the pre-qualification process has been completed. The problem with that is that this project was initiated in 2010. In 2015, after a few years of delay, planning permission was granted. There were certain delays due to fire safety and ESB issues but these issues were overcome more than two years ago. The project was expected to go to tender then and it was expected that work would begin shortly thereafter. A whole year and a half went by and there was no progress. Now we have a limbo situation. In September 2018, the ETB was asked what stage the project was at and what was going on. The school was told that the project was at the pre-qualification stage, for the appointment of contractors. This had been sent into the Department and had been returned with no explanation. I want to know who was responsible for that. We cannot have the two sides saying completely different things but that is what is happening.
In January 2019 there was still no movement. It appears from the Minister's response to me that the Department is using the pre-qualification process as an excuse not to proceed with the development. The ETB is saying that the pre-qualification process has been completed and is with the Department but the Minister is saying that it is with the ETB. They cannot both be right. The manager of buildings in the ETB communicated with the school principal and said that the ETB had completed the documentation and sent it to the Department for approval to go to tender in December 2016. The Department sent that documentation back, stating that it was to be "pre-qualified". The ETB wrote back and asked the Department what it wanted but nothing further happened. This is beginning to make the children's hospital project look well managed. I just do not get it. The answer we seem to be getting to all the questions we submit on education is that projects fall down between the council and the Department or the Department and the ETB. Somebody, somewhere has to do something. This project is more than nine years old and the planning permission for it will expire in the next year if it does not progress. New schools are being promised left, right and centre in locations nearby and meanwhile, hundreds of children are in this school in appalling conditions in Dublin, in 2019.