Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Ceisteanna (35)

Charlie McConalogue


35. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of a development at a school (details supplied); the funding that will be made available; the timeline of when the works will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47496/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

I seek an update on the delivery of a permanent new school building for the lower building at Moville community college. The Minister will know well that the prefabs, which are still used by 550 pupils, have been there since 2001. They very much need a new permanent school building. Some very necessary repair works were done over the summer, but we need to see the work progress to deliver the long-awaited permanent building. At a public meeting during the summer the hope was expressed that a planning application would be possible around September or October. We are now in November, so I seek an update on progress from the Minister.

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of a stand-alone extension project for the school to which he refers has been devolved for delivery to Donegal Education and Training Board, DETB. As Minister for Education and Skills and a Deputy for Donegal, I am delighted to report that there has been significant progress on the revised design for the project, which has been developed by the new architect. I can inform the Deputy that the main aspects of this revised design have been examined by officials and they are satisfied that it will provide for improved new building layouts for the project. The architect is now working with the rest of the design team with a view to providing my Department with a revised stage 2A submission as soon as possible and is targeting this to be done by the end of the year. The timeline for the planning process will be a key factor for determining the overall delivery timeline for the project.

The Deputy will also be aware that surveys to investigate issues with the school's main existing building were recently carried out. An initial report was provided to my Department, on foot of which further surveys were undertaken. A final report is being prepared and this will inform a decision on the best approach to addressing the issues raised in these reports.

I am also pleased to say that refurbishment works on the existing temporary accommodation on site and access for all works on the existing main building were successfully completed over the summer. I thank the school community for its patience as we worked through the provision of this improved accommodation and the DETB officials for their hard work in delivering it.

I understand the need for this project to progress and the efforts of the school and local parents to highlight this. I have met the school and parents about this project and I am fully committed to providing the funding necessary to complete the stand-alone extension and to resolve the issues with the existing building.

This is a tremendous school that provides a tremendous quality of education, which is reflected in the pupils' achievements. It has exceptionally good staff and management. However, it has been forced to live with substandard accommodation for the past 18 or 19 years of its existence. It has had a permanent upper building, which was delivered in 2005, but it has worked out of prefabs for the lower building since 2001. These were condemned by the Department. I welcome the work done over the summer to bring them up to a better standard, but patience has long run out around the delivery of the permanent new building. It was approved in 2014, but here we are in 2019 and we are only at the preliminary stages. The Minister and the Department made a commitment in May that they hoped that planning permission would be applied for in September or October. It is November and this has not happened yet. The timelines have slipped and the Minister is now speaking about a revised stage 2A proposal by the end of the year. We cannot afford any further slippage in the timelines on this. It must move through the processes promptly. I call on the Minister to ensure that this happens and that there are no further delays or slippage as we have seen in recent months. Will the Minister outline more clearly the exact timelines for the completion of the stage 2A proposal, moving to planning and then tender for construction?

It is deeply frustrating for me and the officials that there is a new building, built in 2005, on which we must go back and do a survey. That is the first frustration. The second, as the Deputy is aware, is that we had to replace the architect at the beginning of the summer. We had to go to a new architect and sit down with a new design for the building because other expressed wishes had come from the teachers and parents. We now have a new design. I expressly wanted to put the pressure on to ensure that we get it across the line as quickly as possible. There will be no stone unturned at Department level but we are waiting on the design team and architect. The matter is with them now. They have to make their observations, and as soon as they are ready, we are ready to go for approval to go for planning, so it is a question of how quickly we can get that across the line. The feedback from the Department is that the new team that is working on this has been more than diligent, co-operative, helpful and professional. It is a question of getting it right now. It is up to them to get the information back to the Department and we will move from there.

I know the staff, management and the team are working hard on it. I am saying to the Minister, and through him the Department of Education and Skills, that we must see this progress as quickly as possible. The patience of the staff, students, parents and management has not been rewarded in the past. It was approved in 2014, yet here we are five years later and we are not much further forward. We can have no more of that. We need to see the new permanent building delivered. It is a great school. Its development from new in 2001 was a good initiative to divide the very large numbers in Carndonagh community school at the time. However, it is a massive failure on the part of the Department that we are here without the permanent buildings finished some 18 or 19 years later. I ask the Minister and Department to give every priority in coming months to ensuring there is no slippage in the various stages of the process to getting to tender and to construction.

The students, parents, teachers and management deserve to have modern facilities, including an up-to-date canteen, gym and rooms that offer good conditions for teaching and learning. It is essential that these be delivered now and without any further delay.

There is no question about the commitment relating to this project. I met the principal, Mr. Anthony Doogan, in Moville on the Monday before last. He is satisfied with the level of progress and in his leadership position within the school he must manage expectations and frustrations along the way. Nevertheless, he is satisfied with the progress being made and the work of the design team and architect. It is full steam ahead and as soon as the report comes to the Department with the required information, there will be nothing standing in the way to move this to planning. We can keep the momentum after that.

Question No. 36 replied to with Written Answers.