I welcome the Minister of State to the House this morning and I thank him for taking the time to be here. St. Aidan's comprehensive school, Cootehill, is a stand-alone, post-primary school built in 1996. That school has had no refurbishment to the fabric of the building since that date, apart from some works that were done on foot of a health and safety audit, when some works were done as a result, including the upgrading of the heating system, the addressing of some lighting issues and roof repairs.
St. Aidan's is a progressive school. There are currently 506 students attending with a teaching staff of over 40 and ancillary staff of ten. Student numbers have increased and, thankfully, are increasing, with an extra class in first year this year and a further additional first year class projected for next year. It is worth noting that it is the only post-primary school located in the town of Cootehill.
An application was made to the Department of Education and Skills in 1998, updated in 2014, and again in 2019. Unfortunately, nothing has been forthcoming to date. The application includes a gym and a socialisation area for students to have a place to sit, eat and relax during breaks. Currently, students are sitting on the floor to eat their lunch, which is totally unacceptable. The application includes an upgrade of practical rooms, including two woodwork rooms, one art room and one engineering room to meet current health and safety standards. It also includes an upgrade of the inefficient heating system and an upgrade to the facade of the building to deal with serious leaks, moulds, brickwork deterioration and lack of insulation. Fire doors are required in all classrooms and offices need to meet current fire and health and safety regulations.
Contact has continued through the years with the Department's building unit and architects have been engaged to draw up a detailed plan and costings in line with the Department's regulations. Due to their frustration at the lack of movement on this issue, parents have formed an action group to lobby for the delivery of this project and have sought the services of the building unit of Cavan and Monaghan education and training board, ETB. The board is providing much-needed support and advice on the application.
Practical rooms are in serious need of upgrade to meet the Department's own technical health and safety guidelines. As I said earlier, students deserve a place to sit, eat and socialise. A fit-for-purpose socialisation area is required because, as I said, children currently have to sit on the floor to eat their lunches.
At a time when Departments are rightly concerned with health and safety, being active, mental health and well-being and at a time that the Department is introducing physical education, PE, as a leaving certificate subject, St. Aidan's has no gymnasium. The school has a strong sporting tradition with many staff coaching teams after school. However, if it rains, teams cannot play. With increased numbers seeking to use the school hall for PE at the same time, some of the group are forced to go to a classroom to study as there is no space for them.
St. Aidan's is a school that has embraced well-being, creating awareness of the need for a healthy lifestyle and encouraging active participation by all, especially girls, yet their PE classes frequently have to take place behind desks in a classroom. As an inclusive school, St. Aidan's opens up its facilities, such as they are, to the local community and many groups, including the Holy Family school, with which I am sure the Minister of State is familiar from his visit to the area, use the facilities on a weekly basis. Local football teams and organisations frequently have to use the school facilities in the evenings. Proper gym facilities are needed to develop even stronger links with the clubs and local groups in the community. The town of Cootehill has no indoor facility and this would be a significant contribution to the resources that are available to the people of Cootehill, which is located in a disadvantaged area.
The school does not close its facilities at 4 p.m. It opens its doors 24-7 to the entire community and the community at large would benefit if the funding was allocated so that they can upgrade their building to a decent standard. It is clearly a progressive and fast-moving school with many more students hoping to enrol. Very little investment, if any, has been given to the school since it was built back in the early 1990s. I had the pleasure of visiting the school last week and I was hugely impressed by the principal, Mary Ann Smith, the staff and the students. The staff are totally dedicated to their students and their working conditions are an insult to them as professionals and, indeed, to the students who have to put up with them. I would appreciate if the Minister of State could bring back the message to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, that serious consideration should be given to providing much-needed funding for this school.