I am happy to reply on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Mary Coughlan, who, unfortunately, cannot be present.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and to outline the current position of the application made for an extension to St. Joseph's secondary school, Tulla, County Clare.
Modernising facilities in our existing building stock as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth is a significant challenge. The Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure that the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.
The planning and building unit of the Department of Education and Skills assesses all applications for capital funding. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting, based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings, site capacity etc., leading ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution. As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects. These criteria were devised following consultation with the education partners.
There are four band ratings under these criteria, each of which describes the extent of accommodation required and the urgency attaching to it. Band 1 is the highest priority rating and Band 4 is the lowest. Documents explaining the band rating system are available on the Department's website.
St. Joseph's secondary school has submitted an application for grant aid for an extension and refurbishment project. The application was assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects and assigned a band rating of 2.4. The school made a revised application for major capital funding in 2008 for a new building on a ten acre greenfield site. Due to rising enrolments, the current school site was considered inadequate to cater for the long-term needs of the school. In April 2010 the school's project was rebanded to 1.2 to take account of the fact that the major project will cater for special needs pupils as part of the overall brief.
The school has indicated that its preference is to have a new building constructed on a greenfield site. The Tánaiste met a delegation from the school earlier this year and discussed the possibility of the school's trustees being willing to purchase a new site for a new school building. This issue is under consideration in the context of other demands and the funding required to construct a new school building.
The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time.
In the meantime, the school has received funding under the summer works and emergency works schemes for various works to the existing building including to the roof, windows, boiler, flooring and mechanical services.
I thank the Deputy again for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the current position regarding the school building project for St. Joseph's secondary school, Tulla, County Clare.