17th October, 2008

Paschal raised the need for a new building for St. Laurence O’Toole National School in North Wall with the Minister of State for Education in the Seanad.

He attended a public meeting with parents, the board of management and teachers where the need for a new school builing was discussed. Paschal is committed to doing all he can to ensure this school receives the support it needs to continue it’s great work in the community. The below is a copy of the debate with the Minister on the Issue. Paschal emphasised the need for the Minister to confirm the date for a meeting between the Department of Education and the local school to move ahead with new building plans. He will follow up with the Minister to make sure this happens.

Senator Paschal Donohoe: I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment. I also thank the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Seán Haughey, for coming before the House.

The matter I raise is a building project for St. Laurence O’Toole’s school for girls in the North Wall area of my constituency. The school is located in an area which is desperately in need of focused intervention to address educational disadvantage and illiteracy. Early intervention is also needed in the lives of young families to ensure their children can be put on the right path in life.

For many years, St. Laurence O’Toole’s national school has done tremendous work in difficult circumstances. In recent years, it has stepped up this work and found new ways to look after students attending the school and their families. Part of this approach has involved focusing on what it can do with the facilities and buildings in which it must teach children. With the docklands located immediately adjacent to the North Wall area, the Dublin Dockland Development Authority has assumed a pivotal role in the building project by agreeing to contribute three quarters of the funding required to build the new school. This has created a unique circumstance in that much of the money required to build a new school – the focus of most discussions on schools building projects – is in place.

The provision of a new school building with a range of new facilities would transform the way in which the community is looked after and its children taught. It would serve as an icon in the area and demonstrate that the State is serious about tackling educational disadvantage and looking after families in most need.

The authorities of St. Laurence O’Toole’s national school have been waiting for some time for a meeting with officials from the Department of Education and Science to have an update on the position regarding the provision of a new school building. A meeting planned for earlier in the year was cancelled leaving school staff, parents and the wider community uncertain about the status of the project. They want the Department to re-engage with them by holding a meeting with representatives of the school, parents and teachers to give an update on the current position and work with them to provide the new facilities the community so desperately needs. I look forward to a response from the Minister of State.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Deputy Seán Haughey): I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the position with regard to the proposed building project for St. Laurence O’Toole’s national school, North Wall, Dublin 1.

By way of background, three existing schools in Seville Place, North Wall, have amalgamated. These are St. Laurence O’Toole’s junior girls school, St. Laurence O’Toole’s senior girls school and St. Laurence O’Toole’s junior boys school. It is the Department’s intention to provide a new building to accommodate this development and provide for extra demand for pupil places coming on stream from the ongoing development of the Dublin docklands area. The new building, which is being provided in association with the Dublin Dockland Development Authority, will be developed on the existing site.

The new school’s enrolment at 30 September 2007 was 116 pupils. It has a staffing level of a principal, five mainstream assistants, one amalgamation concessionary post, one disadvantaged concessionary post, one permanent urban band one post, two permanent learning support teachers, one post for an administrative principal, one permanent support project post and one permanent home school liaison teacher. Based on an assessment of the projected enrolment, demographic trends and housing developments for the area carried out by the school planning section of the Department, the long-term projected enrolment suggests that a 24 classroom building would be needed.

The building project is in the early stages of architectural planning. In this regard a stage one submission, which deals with site suitability and initial sketch of the proposed building, has been submitted to the Department and is being examined by the Department’s professional and technical staff. The site is extremely difficult as it is limited in size and has a church located on it with a protected feature which, it has been suggested, should remain visible from the street. Both these issues present not insignificant implications for the design process.

While there is no difficulty in devising imaginative architectural responses, the Department must bear in mind that the building will be used by young children and the end product must be an effective and efficient learning environment, meet all health and safety requirements for the intended users and be conducive to effective management by the principal. This is not an easy task given the limitations imposed by the site. Imaginative architectural solutions also invariably add up to expensive buildings. While the financial contribution from the Dublin Dockland Development Authority is both significant and welcome, the cost to the Department is likely to be over and above that normally provided for a school of this size.

Having said that, the Department’s professional and technical staff are nearing completion of their review of the stage one submission for the project in question. When completed the next step will be to discuss its findings with the board of management. Once the review is finalised officials from the Department will arrange such a discussion. Thereafter, further progress on the project will be considered in the context of the schools building and modernisation programme.

Senator Paschal Donohoe: Does the Minister of State know when a meeting will be held to provide parents and staff with an update on the position? If not, will he seek to arrange such a meeting in the next few weeks to inform the school authorities of the status of the building project?

Deputy Seán Haughey: As I indicated, the Department’s professional and technical staff are nearing completion of their review of the stage one submission. When this has been completed the next step will be to discuss its findings with the board of management. I will endeavour to obtain information on when a meeting with the board of management can be facilitated. I will then revert to the Senator on the matter.