Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. I call on the Minister for Education and Science to examine the Finn Valley college issue. The Stranorlar technical school, which was built in 1939 and opened in 1940, is the oldest County Donegal Vocational Educational Committee school today. The school was renamed in 2007 as the Finn Valley college, having previously been known as Stranorlar technical school. The Department of Education and Science granted approval in 2005 for the provision of a 3,452 sq. m. new school. Planning permission for the new site was granted in November 2006 at the County Donegal VEC site at Drumbo, Stranorlar.
The current school site is very compact, comprising 0.996 acres. Some of the prefabs on the current site have been in place for more than 20 years and are inadequate for meeting the school's accommodation needs. As I did in March, I acknowledge the magnificent contribution of the school board of management, County Donegal VEC and especially the staff for their upkeep of the school's facilities.
The proposed new school will be constructed on the VEC-owned site at Drumbo, Stranorlar, which is 6.79 acres. The proposed project will consist of the construction of a new school building with a floor area of 3,452 sq. m. to cater for the long-term projected enrolment of 325 students. The number of students enrolled this year is 261. The new school will comprise four general classrooms, two lecture rooms which are inter-connected, a specialist room, ancillary accommodation and a physical education hall. This issue has been ongoing for some time.
The school site is valued at approximately €1.5 million, but that may change in the current economic climate. It has been offered to the Department by the VEC. While the project was previously out for tender and tenders were received, their approval was sought by the VEC, but it was not forthcoming. On 4 June last, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, met a delegation from the school. I attended that meeting, as did a number of my Oireachtas colleagues. The meeting was productive and following it there was a subsequent meeting on 8 October between the chief executive of the VEC and his staff and staff of the Department.
In a letter from the Department of Education and Science on 18 November last, the chief executive of Donegal VEC was informed that the project would have to be reissued for tender. That may be good because we may be able to obtain a lower cost for the project given the different economic environment in which we find ourselves. Perhaps more contractors will be available to do the project or carry out the construction at a lower cost.
We accept the Department's viewpoint on the matter and the VEC, staff, parents and pupils associated with the Finn Valley college now seek the re-advertising of the project for tender as quickly as possible, certainly within the first few months of 2009. It is a good time to go to tender as many contractors in Donegal would be able to carry out this project and there are advantages to that.
I welcome the fact that there is almost €600 million in the Department's budget next year for building new projects. What we seek now is approval to proceed to tender again on this project. I hope the Minister of State has some good news on this.