4. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason for the continuing delay in the rebuild of a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 14558/18 asked on 29 Mar 2018)
Deputy Joan Burton: I ask the Minister to outline the reason for the exceptionally long delay in rebuilding St. Patrick’s senior and junior school in Corduff. I have raised this matter five or six times since the Minister’s appointment. The project is going backwards rather than forwards under his tenure. The school was recently informed it will take an additional period to even reach stage 4 of the building process.
Deputy Richard Bruton: The major building project for St. Patrick’s junior and senior national schools, Corduff, is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, namely, stage 2(b) - detailed design - which includes the application for statutory approvals and the preparation of tender documents. All statutory approvals have been secured. The design team is in the process of completing a revised stage 2(b) submission which will include a revised mechanical and electrical report; changes to tender documentation needed as a result of the revised report; amendments brought about through changes to the public works contracts; and an updated cost plan for the project. With this revised submission, the project will shortly complete stage 2(b) of the architectural planning process. The design team has indicated it expects to complete and submit the stage 2(b) report by the end May 2018.
Representatives of the schools met officials of my Department in January 2018 and my Department is providing ongoing support to the schools and their design team on the progression of this project. A letter recently issued to the school and its design team outlining the projected timeframe for progression of this project to tender and construction stage and the steps involved. In that context, my Department expects this school building project will proceed through the tender stage in 2018 and commence construction in the first quarter of 2019. The schools responded by email indicating this was very welcome news, they hoped the project would be up and running by the first quarter of 2019 and they looked forward to seeing the buildings commence.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): There is some good news for Deputy Burton.
Deputy Joan Burton: Not long after he was elected, the Taoiseach was in a building adjacent to the school where he gave a commitment to giving some priority to the school. Incidentally, the proposed new school was approved by the Department in 2010. Is the Minister listening?
Deputy Richard Bruton: I am reading some of the supplementary material that could be helpful to the Deputy.
Deputy Joan Burton: What the school has been told is not delightful but potentially disastrous. It must reapply for planning permission and it has been informed that the costs of the project have increased by 61%. If some of the funding the Government has been lashing around for the strategic communications unit had been spent on schools such as St. Patrick’s, the new building would probably have been completed at this stage. Instead, the money has been spent on newspaper advertorials.
As the Minister pointed out, a new date of commencement has been set. The Minister informed me previously that the works would commence early in 2017 but he informed just now that the date has been moved back to 2019. St. Patrick’s school, Corduff, is a DEIS school in an area of significant economic difficulty where many parents are out of work. Under the previous Government, of which the Minister and I were members, many schools were built in the area. St. Patrick’s school is the only one outstanding and for some reason the Minister has no interest in it.
Deputy Richard Bruton: The Deputy’s comments do not become her. This is not a question of not having an interest. The school has a difficult history. As the Deputy stated, a design team was appointed in 2011. During stage 2(a) of the architectural planning, a request was made by the board of management for a brief change from the design team regarding the system. This required a recasting of the project and this caused a delay. Unfortunately, one of the consultants on the design team subsequently had to be replaced, causing a further delay. A new design team has been appointed, with which the Department is working closely. The Department has also indicated a clear timeframe for completing the project. There is no disinterest in this important project. However, as with other badly needed schools, things can go wrong and problems can arise with planning, sites and so forth. In this case, problems arose with the design team and contractual matters. The Department will continue to work closely with the school and has provided a clear timeframe for completing the tender process.
As for the price, we must await the submission of tenders before the price becomes clear.
Deputy Joan Burton: On his visit to the area last year, the Taoiseach indicated construction would commence shortly. Did that statement not mean anything? Is the Minister aware that the school is located in the area with the highest population growth in Ireland and probably western Europe? Under the previous Government, school after school was built and many of them experienced horrendous difficulties as various companies involved in the construction and design teams went into liquidation as a result of the economic collapse. St. Patrick’s school had a similar experience. However, whereas all the other schools have been rebuilt or had new schools provided, in Corduff, which is a DEIS area with high levels of poverty and economic deprivation and a relatively large number of people out of work, the children must look at the beautiful schools built by the previous Government in Dublin 15 realising that their school is not being built. What kind of a message does that send to children and parents?
Deputy Richard Bruton: I will not involve myself in the local political issue the Deputy is raising. The problems that arose in this case were with the design team and had nothing to do with the Department. The school is back on track. The design team will submit a revised mechanical and electrical report and some important changes to the tender document by the end of May. The amendments are designed to ensure public works contracts protect small contractors when tender documents are being drawn up.
That will then allow the case to proceed to tender. The Department has given a timeline on that so the school can know the basis of its planning. This is being handled in the way that every other school is handled. A priority is given to this school because it is an important school but there have been difficulties with it and I recognise that. I think those difficulties are now overcome and we are proceeding with the project.