Schools Building Projects.

It is disgraceful that I have to raise this issue again. The Department is conscious of the urgent necessity for a new primary school at Kilfinane, County Limerick. I previously raised the matter in the Dáil. The people of Kilfinane and surrounding area were delighted prior to the last election when it was indicated that a new school would be provided in the area. It is almost two years since the general election and there is no indication when work will commence on a new school.

Kilfinane national school is a co-education primary school and in September 2003 had an enrolment of 134 pupils. The staffing consists of a principal, five mainstream teachers, one resource teacher and one shared learning support teacher. The school was built in 1909 and is a listed building. It was recognised in a feasibility study carried out in 1999 that it would not be possible to upgrade or extend the existing building. A site was secured in the area in 2002 and the school committee raised €60,000 to part fund the project, as it was obliged to do. The current educational environment in which teachers and pupils have to operate is not satisfactory. The Department of Education and Science is aware of these conditions so I do not need to elaborate on them. It is imperative that the Department gives approval to the project as soon as possible.

Prior to the last general election the school committee was told the project was on the list and would be carried out in due course. I am aware the Minister has announced the 2004 school building programme. It is imperative that the Minister includes it in the next school building programme. I look forward to a positive reply from the Minister of State.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it gives me the opportunity to outline to the House the strategy for capital investment in education projects and also to outline the position regarding Kilfinane national school, Kilfinane, County Limerick.

Kilfinane national school is a co-educational primary school with a current enrolment of 134 pupils. Enrolments have decreased in recent years from 163 pupils in the school year 1998-99 to 134 pupils in September 2003. The original school, which was constructed in 1909, is subject to a preservation order. The school authorities applied to my Department for capital grant aid to fund an extension and officials in the school planning section of my Department considered this application. The outcome was that the long-term accommodation needs of the school should be based on a teacher allocation of principal and five mainstream teachers plus a shared remedial teacher.

A feasibility study was commissioned to examine the options for development at the school. Among the issues considered was whether it would be preferable to upgrade and extend the current building or provide a new school on a greenfield site. The feasibility study outlined a number of problems associated with remaining on the current site, for example, limited expansion possibilities and any planning application would have to reflect the listed status of the building. A possible new site was identified in the area and it was found to be generally suitable for the construction of a new school. The Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of my Department in regard to site acquisitions, was requested to commence negotiations for purchase of the site. However, the diocese decided to purchase the site for the school and I understand it has now done so.

Once the site has been procured the next step in the process is the commencement of architectural planning for a new school. Consideration will be given to this in the context of an overall review of projects, which the Minister referred to when publishing the 2004 school building programme. At that time he outlined that his strategy going forward will be grounded in capital investment based on multi-annual allocations. Officials are reviewing all projects, which were not authorised to proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme, with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual school building programme from 2005 and Kilfinane national school will be considered in this regard. The Minister expects to be in a position to make further announcements on this matter in the course of the year.

The 2004 school building programme at primary and post-primary level amounts to €387 million and outlines details of more than 200 large scale projects proceeding to construction, 120 projects recently completed or under construction and more than 400 projects at various stages of the architectural planning process.

I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the method used by my Department in determining, in an open and transparent way, how projects are included for funding in the school building programme and to assure the House that this school and all others will be treated in a fair and equitable manner.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.35 p.m. until10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 6 May 2004.