Edenderry is the big Offaly winner according to details revealed by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn today (Monday) of 275 school building projects to be carried out nationwide over the next five years. Both Scoil Bride and Gaelscoil Eadan Doire are to get new school buildings, while Oaklands Community College is to get an extension. The five year outline also includes plans for Tullamore College, which was almost destroyed by a fire in 2001, as well as Scoil Phadraig in Portarlington and Tullamore Educate Together NS. However concerns have been raised locally over the timescale for Offaly plans. While both Scoil Bride and Gaelscoil Eadan Doire are to have new school buildings constructed in 2013, Oaklands Community College and Tullamore College must wait until 2014/15 and 2015/16 respectively for their own extensions.
"Any investment in our local schools is welcome," Fianna Fail Deputy Barry Cowen said. However Deputy Cowen expressed disappointment at the construction start date proposed for Tullamore College, which he says is urgent. "While I welcome the fact that this has been included in the list, it is disappointing and surprising that construction will be delayed until 2015," he said. "The Department had already committed to this new school and a design team was already in place. Based on my discussions with Offaly VEC I had expected that planning permission to be lodged in the coming months and approved by the end of this year. This would've allowed construction to begin next year. This is a crucial project and I am disappointed that we will have to wait at least another three years for building to commence."
Meanwhile Independent Tullamore councillor Sean O'Brien described the treatment of Tullamore College by the Education Minister "an absolute disgrace". "Tullamore College has been waiting urgently for over ten years for a new school following the burning of the school. Telling us that we have to wait until 2016 for an extension is a sla in the face," he said. Cllr O'Brien said he would have to seriously question the logic used in selecting projects and added that he will now be calling on the chairperson of Tullamore town council to call an emergency meeting to discuss the matter.
Deputy Cowen also expressed disappointment that building will not begin on an extension at Oaklands Community College in Edenderry until 2014/15, saying that there is immense pressure already on school facilities and enrolment figures continue to grow. Reacting to news of the planned extension for Oaklands Community College Edenderry Fianna Fail councillor Noel Bourke said his preference would be for a new school on a greenfield site rather than an extension on the current school grounds. "It would make sense to provide that now rather than provide an extension now and have to revisit it again at some stage in the future," he said, adding that he can see increased traffic and parking problems in the vicinity of the current school building.
Fine Gael's Marcella Corcoran Kennedy welcomed plans for Offaly schools, saying that "despite our difficult economic circumstances, the Government is determined to prioritise school building projects to cater for the projected increase in pupil numbers over the coming years".
"These projects will not only have a huge impact on the teachers, pupils and local communities across Offaly and Laois that benefit from new and improved school facilities, they will also give a significant boost in terms of job creation," she said. "At least 15,000 direct jobs and 3,000 indirect jobs will be created during the construction phase over the next five years."
Labour Senator John Whelan also welcomed the news, saying that the Laois/Offaly constituency is "deservedly one of the big winners" in the school building programme. "I am delighted that the Minister and his officials recognised the urgency, need and merit for these new schools and school developments in our community - which has been severely neglected over the years - particularly in the area of primary schools in the large towns across Laois/Offaly," he said. "While the area has seen an unprecedented population boom the provision of primary schools in particular did not keep pace with the influx of new young families into the community over the past decade."
The €1.5bn programme announced today includes details of an additional 217 projects over the next five years on top of 56 projects already announced for this year. It includes plans for 106 new primary schools, 65 extensions for existing primary schools, 43 new secondary schools and 49 extensions for existing secondary school. It also includes plans for eight new special schools and a further four extensions to existing special schools.
Launching the programme Minister Quinn said it aims towards ensuring that every child growing up in Ireland can access a physical school place and means schools and parents will be able to plan much better for their children's education.
The programme will provide over 100,000 permanent school places, of which over 80,000 will be new school places. Total enrolment is expected to grow by over 45,000 at primary level and 25,000 at post primary level between now and 2018 nationwide.
Meanwhile this week Fine Gael's Charlie Flanagan has welcomed the completion of works at Ballinagar NS, which has allowed the school's 183 pupils and their teachers to move into a new eight room school. Deputy Flanagan said he was aware some construction issues delayed the project but after so long in the pipeline he's delighted that it has now reached a conclusion.