Nithe i dtosach suíonna (Atógáil) - Commencement Matters (Resumed)

School Accommodation

I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it gives me the opportunity to provide an update to the House on the current position regarding the external precautionary measures remediation works of Ardgillan community college, part of which is closed since last October, following the identification of significant structural issues.

No doubt the House will be aware that, in October and November last, my Department carried out initial assessments of 42 schools that were built by a contractor using the design and build programme of delivery and which includes part of Ardgillan community college. The House will also be aware that of those schools, 22 required precautionary measures to enable continued safe occupation.

Ardgillan community college is different from the schools with precautionary measures in place in that the nature and extent of the issues there are such that the building assessed was required to close. The school remains operational in another building on site. The safety of pupils and staff has been and remains our first priority.

Following on from the initial assessments, which were based on sample opening-up works, my Department initiated a second phase of detailed investigations for the schools on 18 January last. This next phase of the programme focused initially on the 22 schools that have precautionary measures in place and at Ardgillan.

The purpose of these investigations was to determine the nature and scope of any permanent remediation measures required in each individual school and, from the technical information gathered by the appointed structural engineers, to design permanent remediation solutions where these are needed.

In line with the update published in January, detailed structural investigations have now been completed in all the 22 schools with precautionary measures in place and at Ardgillan community college.

In tandem with the investigations, significant work has been undertaken by my Department, supported by the National Development Finance Agency and an appointed multi-disciplinary team, to design and plan permanent engineered remediation solutions for each of these schools. An individual work plan for each school will flow from this body of work. These plans will feed into an overall time-tabled programme of remediation works for the schools which will commence during the summer months. All efforts remain on track to achieve this objective.

When the works programme is available, the details will be first shared at meetings with the patrons and the schools involved. Arrangements are being put in place for such meetings with the patrons and the school authorities of the 22 schools, including Ardgillan, to be scheduled in June.

In parallel with this work during the summer months, detailed structural investigations in 17 schools built by the same contractor without precautionary measures in place will also proceed. A schedule for those detailed investigations issued to the 17 schools involved and their patrons last week. The intention is that any remediation works that may be necessary in these schools will be carried out from 2020 onwards.

I again acknowledge and thank the principals, staff, parents and pupils for their patience and co-operation as my Department works its way through this complex process.

Specifically, regarding Ardgillan community college, I thank its leadership - Mr. Michael O'Leary, who has shown excellent leadership throughout this process, and his team - and also the students. The scheduled detailed investigation phase has been undertaken and a programme of works to remediate the building is being put in place for implementation. This is an education and training board school. Pending the delivery of the remediation work, my Department will ensure, in continued consultation with the ETB, that any interim accommodation needs at the school are met. In this regard, two additional temporary classrooms, a woodwork room and preparation area together with a disabled access toilet have been approved for September 2019.

I thank the Minister for his reply.

I welcome the provision of the additional temporary classrooms. I appreciate the update in that regard and the update in relation to the remediation works that are due to commence in the summer. I wonder if the Minister could tell me if that time-tabled work shows the completion of these work by September.

I would be hoping that we are in a position to have the vast majority of those 22 schools completed by September. Given the significant impact on Ardgillan community college - it was the only school where they had to decamp on a permanent basis - I certainly will ensure that it will be prioritised and ready for September, if possible.

Some works in the 22 schools may continue into October but everybody will be back in school. Nobody will be decanted. I hope that we will have a solution ready for September for Ardgillan.

I appreciate that the Minister is keeping Balbriggan and Ardgillan community college at the top of his priority list. I will correspond with the Minister about it as the summer progresses.

Sitting suspended at 3.05 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.