Thursday, 1 February 2018

Ceisteanna (12)

Pat the Cope Gallagher


12. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans for sanctioning a new school (details supplied); the timeframe for the delivery of this project; if his attention has been drawn to the need for this new school building owing to the overcrowding and health and safety issues at the school which is located in a church car park; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4662/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Education)

This question relates to St. Mary's national school in Stranorlar. I had hoped another question I had tabled, No. 39, would be grouped with it. It refers to other schools such as Scoil na gCeithre Maistrí in Donegal town; Scoil Adhamhnain in Luinnaigh, my alma matter and that of two former Deputies, the late Clement Coughlan and the late Cathal Coughlan, and Raphoe national school, as well as a long list of second level schools, including Abbey vocational school in Donegal town and St. Eunan's in Letterkenny. I will probably receive the other information later. In the meantime I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply on the long-awaited tender process for St. Mary's national school in Stranorlar.

The major building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, stage 2b, which includes the application for statutory approvals and the preparation of tender documents. All statutory approvals have been secured. The stage 2b submission has been reviewed by the Department and comments were issued to the school and its design team in December 2017. The Department has requested confirmation from the design team that it will carry out one final review of all of its tender documentation to ensure compliance with departmental requirements. The design team has been requested to submit written confirmation from each design team member, including the project supervisor design process, PSDP, that it has completed the review and is satisfied that the tender documents are complete, correct and in compliance with departmental requirements and the amended building control regulations on tender documentation. On receipt of the requested confirmations, the Department will revert to the school on the further progression of the project.

The Deputy is aware of the funding pressures on the capital programme and the need to focus limited funding on the provision of additional school places to cater for demographic demands. The Department is reviewing its programme for capital expenditure in 2018 and into 2019. Building projects, including St. Mary's national school, will be considered in that context. Officials from the Department will shortly be in contact with the school about a timeframe for progression of the project.

I will highlight in the Minister's response the mention of a review that is necessary and the ongoing communication between the design team and the Department. That is not good enough and I must make a political charge. It appears, in the case of this and many other schools, that there is deliberate procrastination at all stages.

The Minister refers to funding and capital expenditure. Bringing the project to a stage at which the Minister can go to tender with it will not cost anything. The school has 447 pupils, of whom 157, or 35%, are permanently based in prefabs. They will have passed through the system before we receive the necessary approval. There is running water in only four classrooms. The main building was built in 1958 and extended later. The planning period for the new school had expired and we had to seek a further duration of five years. I am worried because we can do this only once. Therefore, I implore the Minister to issue a political directive to the Department to move on the project as quickly as possible to allow it to go tender later this year.

The Department attempts to be fair to every school and community and that always needs to be done. However, it needs to be satisfied that the tender process is robust and that has been done. It then has to be satisfied, as it releases projects to tender, that it is in accordance with the funding available. It has to plan and manage the process as best as possible. I agree that it would be best to give schools a roadmap to show how this occurs. The Department is trying to improve in that area in order that schools understand the road ahead. I acknowledge the difficulty highlighted by the Deputy and will talk to the officials to see if communication with the school can be improved.

We are very grateful that the Minister agreed to meet a deputation from St. Mary's national school, just as he did in the case of Scoil Adhamhnain, Luinnaigh and Scoil na gCeithre Maistrí in Donegal town. I will deal with these projects on another day, but I implore the Minister to ask the officials to move quickly. The letter from the Department, dated 21 December, should be dealt with without delay. I realise the Minister is responsible for the country and that Deputies represent counties, but there were school projects further down the list that have been built and the children are in state-of-the-art classrooms. Does the Department look at all projects in the same way?

Unfortunately, the lists are purely indicative. The progress of different school projects depends on the local environment. While a list is made in good faith, it cannot be held as an absolute indicator of what will emerge. I understand what the Deputy is saying. It is right to give schools a better understanding of the roadmap and I am working with the officials to try to achieve this.