Future of Local School

22nd February, 2010

I raised the status of St Laurence O’Toole national school in the Seanad last week. I am forwarding this material onto the local community and will help them in any way that I can.


Statement from Me: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This matter, which is of great importance to a part of my constituency, concerns the difficulties faced by a school in the North Wall area that was due to be supported by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. St. Laurence O’Toole primary school is in the heart of a community which has experienced major difficulties in recent years concerning drugs, deprivation and unemployment. Despite the problems it has faced, the community has done a fantastic job of looking after itself and its children in the face of great difficulty. The school in question reflects so much of the good work and action that has taken place there. It is located in an area that is subject to ferocious criminal, anti-social behaviour and, as a result, it is the object of attention by members of the Garda Síochána, including community gardaí. It is apparent that the school needs to be redesigned and redeveloped. It requires facilities befitting a school facing such difficulties, and those facilities are merited by the teachers and pupils involved.
Much of the redevelopment work was to have been funded by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority as part of its commitment to support local communities. Due to the difficulties the authority is facing, however, it now appears that there is a question mark over that guarantee of €6 million for the school.

I am raising this matter because it is so important to find a way of supporting this school to provide the necessary facilities. The school is facing awful difficulties but is doing a good job none the less in dealing with the current situation. I would appreciate the Minister of State’s clarification on two points. First, at what stage are the discussions between the Department and this school concerning the plans for its redesign? Second, in light of the announcement by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, can the Minister of State say what can be done to provide funding for this school, thus ensuring that when a design plan is agreed, there will be sufficient funding to implement it?

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe. I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the Seanad the Government’s strategy for capital investment in educational projects as well as outlining the current position concerning St. Laurence O’Toole national school in Dublin 1.

Modernising facilities in our existing building stock as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in 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 the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.

The allocation of funding for school buildings in 2010 is a little under €579 million. This represents a significant investment in the schools building and modernisation programme. This level of funding, at a time of great pressure on public finances, is a sign of the Government’s commitment to investing in school infrastructure. It will permit the continuation of the Department’s programme of sustained investment in primary and post-primary schools.

All applications for capital funding are assessed in the Department’s planning and building unit. The assessment process determines the extent and type of need presenting based on the demographics of an area, proposed housing developments, condition of buildings and site capacity, thus leading to an appropriate accommodation solution. As part of this process, a project is assigned a band rating under published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects. These criteria were devised following consultation with the education partners. The original criteria were revised and refined in 2004. Projects are selected for inclusion in the schools building and modernisation programme on the basis of priority of need. This is reflected in the band rating assigned to a project. In other words, a proposed building project moves through the system commensurate with the band rating assigned to it.

The project for St. Laurence O’Toole’s primary school emerged from a feasibility study commissioned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, DDDA, in 2005. The DDDA subsequently came forward with a proposal to the Department to make a significant contribution towards the building costs of the project. The project is being developed jointly by the Department of Education and Science and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. The DDDA is acting as project manager on this project as it is the primary funding agent. The project has been assigned a priority band rating of 1.4 under the published prioritisation criteria for large-scale building projects.

The project is currently at stage 1, preliminary sketch scheme, which is an early stage of the architectural planning process. As the project is in the early stages of architectural planning, the Department is not in a position to comment further on the details of the funding arrangements or the overall estimated cost of the project as to do so could potentially affect the tendering process for the project at a future stage. I can inform the Senator that the Department of Education and Science has not received any communication from the DDDA regarding potential difficulties in funding the project.

The progression of all large-scale building projects, including this one, from initial design stage through to construction is dependent on the prioritisation of competing demands on the funding available under the Department’s capital budget. The proposed building project will be considered in the context of the Department’s multi-annual schools building and modernisation programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the Department’s capital budget, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the delivery of the project at this time.

I thank the Senator again for giving me this opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position regarding the school building project for St. Laurence O’Toole national school in Dublin 1.