Schools Building Projects

The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, is welcome to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to contribute to this very important Adjournment debate.

I am conscious of the nature of the Minister of State's departmental responsibility. It is important that the construction of a new primary school in Ballygarvan be expedited. The area has been waiting for a new school since the late 1990s. There are many more than 300 pupils in the existing school which operates under very difficult physical conditions. It is due to the perseverance and patience of the teachers, the principal, staff, parents and the board of management that the school has managed to survive this far in such substandard conditions. We have been through this process for a long time in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills and landowners in the diocese of Cork and Ross. I want the Minister of State to commit to ensuring Ballygarvan national school will be a priority in the Estimates for 2011.

The fact that funding for 2010 was €579 million and funding for next year is €492 million is a worry for the people of Ballygarvan. Political will is required if the new school is to be built. I hope guarantees can be given in this regard in this debate in the House.

I understand issues arose in respect of the previous contractor. The parents and board of management of the school have been very proactive in the process. I seek a commitment to allow the project to go to tender in order that the pupils, staff and principal of the school will have a new school at some time in 2011. It is important there be a commitment in this debate to going to tender and proceeding to construction.

The community has shown the importance of and need for community. It has worked very hard to ensure the project has reached its current level. We must now proceed to the next step. It would be deeply disappointing for all concerned if the project were delayed further. I ask the Department to make the school a priority despite the 33% reduction in the budget allocation for next year. There is an onus on us to protect the students and teachers at the school who cannot continue to work in and be taught in prefabs and old buildings. These buildings are impinging on the play area of the school. The Minister of State, who is responsible for children, knows the importance of looking after the physical well-being of students in addition to their educational needs.

While we face economic challenges, it is important we commit to building a new school for the population of Ballygarvan. A delay will be unacceptable. It is now opportune to facilitate the smooth progression to the next stage, which involves a commitment to build a new school.

I am responding on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Mary Coughlan. I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the budget details for capital investment in education projects and to provide an update on the current position on Ballygarvan national school in particular.

In 2011, the Government's overall capital allocation will be €4.654 billion or 3.6% of GNP. The Department's allocation from this programme is €491 million, of which €383 million will be available for the schools building programme. This provision reflects the reduced allocation for such expenditure overall. I am confident, however, that the funding available will allow for demographic needs to be met and will provide for continued improvement to the stock of educational capital, especially given falling land values and tender prices.

With regard to Ballygarvan national school, the need to provide for additional school places has already been determined and consequently the proposed project for the construction of a new 16-classroom school was one of 25 projects announced to commence architectural planning in February 2009. Following the announcement of the project to enter into architectural planning in February 2009, detailed designs were prepared, planning permission lodged and a tender competition held. Unfortunately, delays in securing planning permission and the acquisition by the patron of the two parcels of land required for the proposed new school building impacted on the scheduled delivery of the project. The completion of the land transfers in September by the patron enabled the Department to enter into discussions with the preferred bidder. Unfortunately, issues subsequently arose with the preferred bidder that resulted in a decision to re-tender the project. The project was put out to tender again on 1 December and the new tenders are due back before Christmas.

I confirm that the project will remain on the Department's rapid delivery programme, which should ensure the fastest possible delivery of this project. Subject to no further issues arising, it is envisaged the project will progress to construction in early 2011 with a construction period of approximately 26 weeks. Departmental officials are in contact with the school authorities who have been fully apprised of the progress on the project. The Department will continue to liaise with the patron and the school authorities regarding the proposed project.

I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position on the school building project for Ballygarvan national school.

I welcome the fact that we will see a new school next year. I hope there will be no further roadblocks.