Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Questions (58)

Peter Burke


58. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the construction and of the relocation of a school, details supplied; the timeline for completion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29223/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Education)

I want to ask the Minister about the status of the construction and relocation of Curraghmore national school to Ardmore Road in Mullingar. The Minister will be familiar with this project because he visited it with me last February. The very tolerant board of management is very concerned because of the constant delays in delivery.

I did indeed visit the site and I can understand the Deputy's frustration. This project in Curraghmore is being delivered on my Department's behalf by the school’s local authority. The local authority recently notified officials that the project is six to eight weeks behind schedule and that a recent works programme provided by the contractor indicated a completion date in 2019. That is fully six months beyond the intended date.

Needless to say, it is a completely unacceptable development for all concerned, particularly the school, as it will have to continue to operate in unsatisfactory conditions with increasing enrolments until its new building is ready. Consequently, my Department has instructed the local authority to inform the contractor that it expects a programme of works that sees the project completed well before the end of 2018. A strong letter to this effect has issued from the design team to the contractor and a revised programme to reflect this requirement is awaited. The county council and its design team, with the support of my Department, will persist in pursuing the contractor for as speedy a delivery of this project as possible. My Department understands the county council is keeping the school informed of developments and this will continue to be the case.

I thank the Minister for his reply and for the detail he provided on the action the Department is taking. There are ten portakabins on the existing site and to date €1.5 million has been spent on renting them. Every month the project is delayed, €7,500 will be spent on rent. The principal and board of management were told in January 2018 the school would be delivered no later than October 2018. On that basis, in good faith, the principal agreed to take on 56 junior infants. It will put massive pressure on the school, which is why we need a new location to ensure the service can be delivered in a safe manner. When the delay to October 2018 was announced, the board of management took it in good faith because it is very tolerant. It accepted it due to the adverse weather conditions earlier in the year. It is grossly unacceptable for the date to be after October 2018 because of the specific circumstances of the school.

I understand the Deputy's concern. While there were some delays and unforeseen ground conditions, from the point of view of the design team the maximum delay should be six to eight weeks behind schedule and not the revised timeline. The local authority will be aware of the protections it has in the contract to ensure compliance and penalties in the event of failure. It is very clear the local authority, backed by the Department, will take a firm view in respect of the case because of the points the Deputy makes about the exposure both in terms of cost and the inconvenience this sort of delay will create for the pupils concerned.

We need to use a big stick when implementing penalties and we must hold the contractor to account for the contract he signed on 25 August 2017. Marty Hanley in Westmeath County Council, who is representing the council in this matter, has been of huge assistance in liaising with the parents, the board of management and the Department. I am interested in the Minister's views on the future of schools and divesting control to local authorities and on how he would assess this project.

I would be grateful if the board of management could be apprised by the contractor of the progress of the school every few weeks. It is a brilliant news story for Mullingar. Getting the students into a first-class facility is long-awaited and we do not want to temper it with frustration or annoyance at further delays. We must ensure the safety works are carried out to ensure safe access to the school and also so the staff, principal, students and parents can get settled in as quickly as possible.

I acknowledge what the Deputy has said. The Department has a diversified portfolio of approaches to building schools. We use the NDFA, the ETBs, the local authorities and public private partnerships. We have devolved design teams and the rapid delivery programme. We have a mixture. None of them is absolutely perfect. We have had difficulties of this nature in all of those streams. The important thing is we diversify and try different models and keep the pressure on all of those models. I will not level criticism at the local authority on this matter.