Seanad Éireann - Volume 149 - 29 October, 1996

Adjournment Matters. - Cloontuskert (Roscommon) School.

Acting Chairman: I understand Senator Finneran wishes to share his time with Senator Mullooly.

Mr. Finneran: Yes.

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

[134] Mr. Finneran: I started to make representations on behalf of the teachers, pupils and parents of Cloontuskert national school in January 1994. While things have moved somewhat since then, the most important matter, the provision of funds for the new school, has not been addressed.

The parents of children at Cloontuskert national school want me to draw attention to the deplorable conditions there. The buildings, originally constructed as shop units in 1955, were not designed for use as a school and the Western Health Board and the INTO have condemned them in recent surveys. The structure of the buildings, internally and externally, is deteriorating rapidly. The children use external toilets, which are unsanitary, unhygienic and primitive, in all weathers conditions. There are no facilities for hot or cold water inside or outside the school and the water tank is placed directly above the main power supply. The surface of the yard is rough and uneven and likely to cause injury to the children.

The interior of the school causes concern for the health and safety of the children. Classrooms are undersized, inadequately heated by old storage heaters and the lighting is very poor; two classrooms share one light switch. Cloakroom facilities are seriously lacking and floor surfaces consist of a hotch potch of various tiles which are uneven and extremely hazardous in wet conditions in particular. Doors and windows are rotting, even disintegrating in places, and plaster is falling off the walls in some classrooms. Large patches of damp are clearly visible. Rodents, old fashioned desks and lack of facilities are among the many problems encountered daily in the school.

The parents are very distressed by the conditions under which their children are being educated. Funds should be provided immediately for alternative facilities so the children can be taught in safe and comfortable surroundings. This is their constitutional right. The position has not changed since February 1994 other than that the local people have moved a long way themselves. A site has been purchased and planning permission has been granted. The local contribution was raised in full with great enthusiasm.

The parents, teachers and pupils demand action from the Department of Education. They feel it is unfair and unjust that their children are being educated in inadequate buildings which were not designed for a school. They are not prepared to tolerate the position any longer and they want a definite commitment regarding the day and date on which the building project will commence. I support them; they have a genuine case and there is a responsibility on the Department of Education to bring forward the necessary funds to provide this facility.

Mr. Mullooly: I support the case made by Senator Finneran and join him in appealing to the Minister for a definite date for the commencement of work on the new national school at Cloontuskert, which has been approved.

[135] As Senator Finneran said, Cloontuskert is situated in the electoral area I represent on Roscommon County Council so I know the area very well. The area came into existence as a Bord na Móna village. The houses in the estate where the school is located were built originally by Bord na Móna for the board's employees in the Mountdillon works. The estate has evolved into a beautiful village and this year it won the county award in the Tidy Towns competition, finishing ahead of Keadue which won the national award two years ago. This indicates the great community spirit which obtains in Cloontuskert.

The building which currently serves as the local school was designed and built originally as shop units to service the Bord na Móna houses; two houses adjoin the school building. The need for a new school in Cloontuskert has been obvious and accepted for many years. Existing buildings and facilities are extremely substandard and have been condemned by the Western Health Board, the INTO and the chief fire officer of Roscommon County Council. The INTO representative who visited the school informed the staff that it was easily the worst school building he had ever inspected.

The area of each of the classrooms is less than two thirds of the average sized classroom. There are no sinks in classrooms and the heating system is completely inadequate because it is provided by old storage heaters and the ceilings are very high. As Senator Finneran said, there is insufficient natural light in the classrooms. There is no grassed play area attached to the school; there is only a small rough stoned clay area and this increases the risk of an accident. There are outdoor toilets and there is no electricity, heat, light or hot water in any of them. There are only two cubicles for almost 60 boys which is way below the required or the recommended provision which I understand is one cubicle for every 15 pupils.

The Department has taken the view over the years that no money should be spent on updating or improving the old school as it would be a total waste of money, and I agree with that. It came to the conclusion very early on that a new school was the only solution. The continued existence of the old school is costing the Department because there is a fourth teacher in the school, a position which is not warranted by the numbers in the school but which has to be maintained because of the inadequate classroom facilities. If the new school were provided there would be an immediate automatic saving to the Department of the salary of that fourth teacher.

The parents have acquired a site for the new school at a cost of over £17,000. They have raised in the region of £25,000 which is equal to the local contribution the Department has indicated will be required for the new school. I was delighted [136] to support some of the fund raising activities of the very enthusiastic parents' committee who raised not alone the funds to purchase the site but also the £25,000 local contribution.

Planning permission has been granted and, as Senator Finneran has pointed out, the parents are becoming increasingly annoyed and disillusioned that no progress has been made for some time now. They demand to be informed of a definite date for the commencement of work on the new school and they are adamant that their children will not spend another winter after this one in the old school. For the new school to be available to their children for next winter, work would need to commence in the very near future. I appeal to the Minister to give very sympathetic consideration to the case Senator Finneran has made on behalf of the parents and pupils of Cloontuskert.

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East): I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Education. I thank the Senators for raising this matter.

First, I would like to outline the Department of Education's current position regarding Cloontuskert national school, Lanesboro, County Roscommon. At present the school has a staffing level of principal and three assistant teachers, one of whom holds a temporary concessionary post. The school's enrolment was 80 pupils on 30 September 1995.

The existing building which is in poor condition contains four classrooms with detached toilets. The classrooms are undersized by present standards. A building project at the school was included in the Department's 1995 capital building programme. The inclusion of the project in the programme enables the project to progress through the architectural planning process. The plans provide for a new three classroom school with appropriate ancillary accommodation. Planning permission for this project was received in September 1996.

The current position in relation to the project at Cloontuskert school is that the Department's architectural staff are in the process of preparing the tender documentation. In parallel with this, the Department will be inviting contractors and subcontractors to apply for inclusion on a pre-qualification tender list shortly. When this documentation is complete, a decision will be taken on the timing of the tender and contract process in the light of available resources. Every effort will be made by the Department to ensure the project is progressed at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Finneran: I thank the Minister for his reply and for bringing us up to date on the matter.

The Seanad adjourned at 7 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 October 1996.