I thank Senator O'Loughlin for raising this extremely important matter in the county of Kildare and surrounding areas. As the Senator may be aware, in order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, the Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a geographical information system, using data from a range of sources to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. Kildare, Newbridge and the Curragh are three of the designated school planning areas.
Where data indicate that additional provision is required at primary or post-primary level, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may, depending on the circumstances, be provided through either one or a combination of the following, namely, utilising existing unused capacity with a school or schools; extending the capacity of a school or schools; or the provision of a new school or schools.
As a result of demographic analysis, 47 new schools have been announced to open between 2019 and 2022, including two new post-primary schools to serve school planning areas in County Kildare, in Kilcock and Maynooth. The requirement for additional school places is kept under ongoing review and a current exercise to examine updated data, taking cognisance of demographic trends and planned residential development in the school planning areas, is at an advanced stage. A significant number of other schools in Kildare have current capital projects and details of these are available on the Department's website, www.education.ie.
Under Project Ireland 2040, the Department continues to make progress to increase the infrastructural capacity in the schools sector to meet demographic and other demands. The capital programme details the school projects that are being progressed under Project Ireland 2040. I wish to advise the Senator that the current status of large-scale projects being delivered under Project Ireland 2040, including projects in Kildare, the Curragh and Newbridge, may be viewed on the Department's website. That information is updated regularly. In addition, a list of large-scale projects completed from 2010 to date may also be viewed on the website.
The capital programme also provides for devolved funding for additional classrooms, including accommodation for pupils with special educational needs, if required, for schools where an immediate enrolment need has been identified or where an additional teacher has been appointed. Details of schools listed on this programme can also be found on the Department's website.
The existing Curragh Post Primary School is a multi-denominational community college under the patronage of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board, KWETB.
The Department is aware that post-primary enrolments in the Kildare, Newbridge and Curragh school planning areas have been increasing in recent years and it is expected that this pattern will continue in the short to medium term.
It is intended that this demand will be addressed by the planned provision of a new 1,000-pupil school as a replacement for the existing Curragh Post Primary School. This new school will also provide capacity to cater for demand arising in the Curragh and adjoining Newbridge and Kildare school planning areas. There is capacity in the existing Curragh Post Primary School building pending delivery of the new school building.
As the Senator will be aware, the Department is also currently advancing or recently building projects in a number of post-primary schools in the Newbridge-Kildare-Curragh area school planning areas, which will provide additional capacity. The current status of each of these projects may be viewed on the Department's website, which is updated regularly. For the Senator's convenience, I will outline the current status of the major projects. In the case of St. Conleth's Community College, Newbridge, an extension project was completed in 2018 to provide for a capacity of 750 pupils. The school had an enrolment of 547 pupils in 2019-20. In the case of Patrician College, Newbridge, the project is at the early architectural planning stage to provide for 1,000 pupils and is being managed and delivered by the National Development Finance Agency. The school had an enrolment of 884 pupils in 2019-20. Similar to the process adopted for September 2020 readiness, the Department will be engaging further with patron bodies shortly in advance of identifying specific September 2020 capacity pressure point priorities, which will necessitate specific action.
In a normal year, addressing the increase in demands for school places, while challenging, is manageable, generally through utilisation of existing spare capacity within schools, rental, temporary accommodation or other short-term measures pending the delivery of permanent accommodation.
A new site will be required for the replacement post-primary school and the Department is currently at a very advanced stage in the process of identifying a suitable site for the new school building. This site acquisition process has been progressed in respect of the requirement in question and in line with standard acquisition protocols. The Department is liaising closely with Kildare County Council under the memorandum of understanding between the Department and local authorities for the acquisition of school sites with a view to securing a suitable site for this school. The Department has engaged the services of a site acquisition manager, a consultant, to shortlist potential sites, preferably in or around Kildare town and in Newbridge, in order to appraise same. The first stage of this appraisal has been completed with input from Kildare County Council and the Department is now in a position to carry out stage 2 assessments of a refined shortlist.
This stage 2 process is under way.
Arising out this exercise, the Department has opened preliminary discussion with landowners on short-listed sites and is hopeful of progress. The Senator will appreciate that commercial sensitivities attach to site acquisitions such as this and given that negotiations are at a critical point, I am not in a position to discuss further information and detail. Should agreement on the proposed acquisition be reached, a process will advance to the conveyancing stage when draft contracts are prepared and legal due diligence is undertaken in respect of the proposed transaction. It would be expected at that stage that the project to deliver the new school accommodation can simultaneously progress to architectural planning stage. I can assure the Senator that school authorities will be kept apprised of the situation and will be informed of a permanent location for the school as soon as possible.