Nicker NS 2010

Adjournment Debate, Dail Eireann on the need for an extension to Nicker National School, Co. Limerick – 15th December 2010

Deputy Dan Neville

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise the urgent need for an extension to Nicker national school – Roll No. 142314 – in County Limerick. The school has 94 pupils and it is forecast that this figure could reach 120 within four years.

The school seeks the necessary funds to carry out major important work to the school. The main school building has two mainstream classrooms, a smaller room used by the resource teacher and a similar room serving the dual purpose of office and staff room. There are two pre-fabs, both used as mainstream classrooms, which have been on the site for more than 40 years. These are in very poor condition and in no way represent an appropriate environment for the safe and successful education of children. We know, from experience of these situations, that changes of temperature in very warm or very cold weather make these classrooms very uncomfortable and unsuitable for teachers and pupils. There is also a small pre-fab that was bought some years ago by the school. It is used by the learning support teacher.

The toilets are in a separate building at the rear of the main school building. It is totally inappropriate that children must go out into the open when using the toilets. This would be totally unacceptable in any school in Ireland and should not be the case in Nicker school in County Limerick.

The issues I have raised make for a very unsatisfactory, sub-standard and defective working environment. They present all kinds of health and safety issues concerning the children and their welfare, especially when children are leaving the classrooms to use the toilets.

The wall in front of the school is between 18″ and 24″ from the ground on the inside, but there is a drop of 4 ft. on the road side. Due to the very limited play area at the back of the school, the younger children must use the area between the front of the main building and this wall. Despite the constant and watchful eyes of those on yard duty, this is an accident waiting to happen. We are concerned for the safety of the children who play in this area. We cannot tolerate putting children in danger.

The board of management has purchased a piece of land adjacent to the school. The plan is to build the extension onto the rear of the present main building and use the land that was bought as a play area. The extension will involve two mainstream classrooms, a classroom for the learning support teacher, an office, indoor toilets and a general purpose room. There is no facility to build indoor toilets unless the extension is built.

The land was purchased last February at a cost of €23,650. I congratulate the board of management on a very successful fund-raising event, which places it in a position to provide the specified local contribution for the capital works the school wishes to undertake. Alternatively, the board would be happy for the Minister to look at allocating funding under the devolved grant scheme, if that would be more suitable.

I ask the Minister to prioritise this school in the next schools building programme, because of the condition of the toilets and the prefabs and for the safety of the children.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey)

I am taking his Adjournment debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Mary Coughlan.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Dáil the Government strategy for capital investment in education projects and to outline the current position of the application for capital funding from Nicker national school, County Limerick.

Modernising facilities in our existing building stock as well as the need to respond to the emerging needs of areas of rapid population growth is a significant challenge. The Government has shown a consistent determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure that appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.

The planning and building unit in the Department of Education and Skills assesses all applications for capital funding. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need arising, based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings, site capacity, etc., and leads ultimately to an appropriate accommodation solution.

The staffing level at Nicker national school comprises a principal, three mainstream teachers, one shared permanent learning support teacher and one shared permanent resource teacher. The school had an enrolment of 94 pupils in September 2009. In July 2010, the school submitted an application for grant aid for major capital works to the school building. The application is for an extensive refurbishment of the existing accommodation and an extension to provide additional classrooms, a general purpose room and other appropriate ancillary accommodation. The application is being considered and assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects. This assessment process will take account of the factors which to which I have just referred.

The priority attaching to individual projects is determined by published prioritisation criteria, which were formulated following consultation with the education partners. There are four band ratings under these criteria, each of which describes the extent of accommodation required and the urgency attaching to it. Band 1 is the highest priority rating and band 4 is the lowest. Documents explaining the band-rating system are available on the website of the Department of Education and Skills. When a band rating is confirmed for this proposed project, it will be added to the list of all assessed applications for major capital works, which is also available on the website.

The progression of all large-scale building projects – including this project – from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of the Department’s multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not currently possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project.

In the interim, I can confirm that the school authority applied for funding under the summer works scheme 2010 for external works to the school. This was the category of works which the school chose to prioritise in its application. I am pleased to be able to confirm that the school’s application was successful and that it received funding under the summer works scheme earlier this year. These works have now been completed and all the funding has been drawn down by the school authority. The school was also awarded contingency funding in respect of works to the building earlier in the year. I am pleased to confirm that the school authority has also drawn down this funding.

I again thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position regarding the school building project for Nicker national school, County Limerick. I took note of what he said earlier and of the queries he raised in respect of this matter. I will bring his comments to the attention of the school building section.