Deputy Michael Kitt has been given permission to raise on the Adjournment the application for an extension to Lavally school, Tuam, County Galway. Deputy Noel Treacy has also requested that permission.
Adjournment Debate. - Lavally (Galway) School.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this matter to be raised on the Adjournment. I would point out to the Minister that I raised this matter this morning on the Order of Business. I am glad he has come into the House to hear the points we wish to make concerning this school.
The extension to this school was first approved and deemed necessary six years ago. The Minister may be aware that earlier this year a programme on this school was featured on an RTE "News-time" television programme. Last January a strike in this five teacher school was organised because of frustration on the part of parents and teachers at the delay in getting the approved work done. The school has 155 pupils at present. It has the same meagre classroom accommodation and facilities as when there were only 85 students. It is a five teacher school with three classrooms. One of the classrooms is divided by a temporary partition which was erected three years ago when the fifth teacher was appointed. I understood, and it was also the understanding of the teachers and parents at that time, that this was to be a temporary measure until such time as the extension was built.
Lavally national school was originally a two teacher school and remained so up to 1973 when Argloragh national school was amalgamated with it. It then became a four teacher and later a five teacher school. The parents of children attending Argloragh national school were given a commitment at the time of the amalgamation that full facilities would be given to their children at Lavally national school. I am asking the Department to honour that commitment, in other words, to carry out the extension as quickly as possible.
The figure I have been given by the Department for the cost of the extension is approximately £180,000, which includes three new classrooms and renovation work to the existing building. The local contribution of £20,000 was collected through fund raising three years ago by the parents and teachers. I am sure the Minister will understand the frustration of the parents and teachers who worked so hard to raise that money that nothing has been done to have the extension built. Every possible means of raising money and getting started has been carried out by the board of management. They were told by various officials in the past that work would start very soon. They are concerned about the summer holidays approaching because they would like the work to be done during the holiday period, with minimum disruption of classes. The number of pupils in this school has been on the increase over the past few years and these are now cramped in very overcrowded conditions which are proving, I understand, a health hazard as well as causing obvious discomfort to the pupils and teachers.
I visited the school on a number of occasions and one of the amazing things about the divided classroom is that there are 53 pupils in a classroom which originally held 30. This is unacceptable. There is also the problem of the playground, which is at present flooded. Could the Minister tell us what the Department's responsibility is with regard to play areas? We hope the Minister will be able to give us the timetable involved in the extension of the school and tell us that a decent play area will be provided.
The board of management would like to carry out necessary improvements to the existing building pending the extension, but are unable to do this at present because they do not know the exact position. Would the Minister tell us when the Department will be inviting tenders for this work? I compliment the Minister and his Minister of State on advising us of the timetable of tenders in other areas of County Galway, and when tenders will be invited for schools like Aughrim and Kilconnell. I understand Lavally national school is in the same situation, that it has reached the stage where tenders are to be invited. With regard to the health hazard, medical certificates have been sent in to the Department. The toilet facilities are sadly lacking and, as I said, the playground is a hazard of major concern. I hope the Minister will bring the frustration of the parents and teachers to an end by telling us that tenders are being invited very shortly for this work, which is overdue.
I, too, wish to thank the Minister for giving us this opportunity to raise this very important matter on the Adjournment. I want to reinforce the request of my constituency colleague that urgent and immediate action be taken in this very serious matter. Lavally is a rural area, located in the mid-northern region of County Galway. There is tremendous enthusiasm on the part of the board of management, the school manager, the staff and the parents to ensure that these facilities are made available. They have made every effort over a long period of time and have been very patient and very reasonable. They are not looking for a new school. All they want is an extension and the renovation of the existing building to blend with the new extension and ensure that all the facilities will be of a standard comparable with any school in the constituency or, indeed, in the country. That is something to which they are constitutionally entitled. They also want a proper playground and recreational area for the pupils.
This is a mixed and very large school of over 150 pupils. It is different from a situation in an urban area where one has separate boys' and girls' schools. We have a very large mixed school and it is important that there should be proper playground facilities let alone school structural facilities. A proper environment should be created so that parents can be assured that their children are within a proper school environment and that teachers will be teaching in a proper environment.
In times of such serious unemployment in our country and throughout Europe the children should be assured through the State and the Department of the best possible educational facilities so that they would come out of their first level education with the maximum opportunities and input from the teachers in a proper environment.
This extension was approved six years ago. I have raised this matter by way of formal representations and by way of parliamentary question. I am now delighted to be reinforcing this request by my colleague, Deputy Kitt, to the Minister asking that the work be carried out. The school has five excellent teachers who have a tremendous interest in the locality. Some of the treachers who did not come from that locality moved in to live and have a total commitment to the area. The board of management, the teachers and the parents have been very patient for a long time. It is my information that this extension is third on the list. The two ahead of it have now been decided upon. If that is the case, I would be very grateful if the Minister could make a positive decision in favour of the children, the parents and the people of the Lavally area of County Galway.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Minister for his contribution in a very short time to education in our country. The Minister has got an ad hoc pro tempore settlement in the teachers' dispute. We all welcome that and we are delighted with it. The Minister's personality and attitude has helped in a substantial way in bringing that about. I would like to pay tribute to him and to his Minister of State, Deputy Kenny, who comes from the other side of the county boundary which is close enough to Lavally and who should have first hand knowledge of this area.
I hope that the playground, in particular, will be included in whatever development goes ahead. The amount of money to be expended pro rata per pupil is very minimal in comparison to the amount of money being invested by the State in other students in our country. When one considers it costs the taxpayers of this island in the region of £23,000 pro rata per head to educate a dental student and the amount of money being expended here is £1,000 per pupil in order to provide teachers, pupils and parents with a proper teaching environment and teaching facilities in the heart of rural Ireland, it is saving the State a lot of money in not having to build a new school. Both of us as Oireachtas Members for the constituency are appealing jointly to the Minister for Education to ensure that the small amount of money needed to be expended will be spent immediately and that the work will be carried out during the summer. This is very important because we have six to seven weeks of summer holidays coming up. It would be very unfair to expect teachers and pupils to go back into a similar teaching environment next September. Considering that we have had very inclement weather over the past few years — this year is no better — we hope that teachers and pupils will not have to go back into that same environment where the weather is having a major effect on the school's facilities and environment in Lavally.
I am appealing on behalf of my colleague, the parents, the pupils, the board of management, the school manager, the teachers and I to the Minister for Education to ensure that this decision is made quam celerrime.
Having regard to the nice things the Deputies opposite said about me I can hardly do anything except to say I have listened with great sympathy to what they have had to say.
I have been aware of the need to provide additional accommodation at Lavally national school. As Deputy Kitt has indicated, it has grown very significantly over the last number of years. My Department have agreed to grant aid the erection of an extension which will comprise three new class rooms and the conversion of part of the existing school to a general purpose room. When the work has been completed we will have a school comprising five class rooms, a general purposes room and there will be ancillary facilities which will include teachers' rooms, library, medical room, stores, car park and, as the Deputies will be glad to hear, a full size ball park.
I acknowledge that there has been some delay. Part of that delay has arisen because of the need to make a revised submission to Galway County Council in connection with the final planning permission for the object. That, I am glad to say has now been satisfactorily concluded and the preparation of the contract documents is virtually completed. The Deputies will be aware that there are many cases of extensions to national and primary schools all over the country. These have to be ordered in a methodical way. Lavally national school can expect to be got under way quickly. I cannot put a precise date on it but I expect and will urge the speedy completion of the technical documents, if that has not already been achieved. As soon as that has been done, I will arrange for the invitation of tenders. I am certainly convinced by what I know of the subject and by what I have heard from the Deputies that it is an urgent problem. I will give it urgent attention within the Department to ensure that when the matter comes to me, and I will ask that it be brought to me at the earliest possible moment, it will get priority.
Could I ask the Minister in what month will he invite tenders?
I cannot say that until I get the contract documents and the technical stuff is finished. I am going to press for the contract documents to be expedited. I understand that they are virtually completed. As soon as they are completed, I will move.
Does the Minister anticipate having them over the next month?
I take the point the Deputy makes about trying to get the work done during the vacation.
The Dáil adjourned at 4.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 23 May 1986.