More than half of promised new schools stuck in planning limbo
MORE than half of the school projects promised by the Government last year have not seen a sod turned or a brick laid.
Forty-two of the schools are stuck in planning limbo -- with 30 projects currently at tender, while 12 have not reached the tender stage yet.
Just 11 of the promised 78 school building projects have been completed, while another 25 are still under construction, new figures released by Fine Gael claim.
One school which was recently given the go-ahead to build an extension, Croinchoill NS in Birr, Co Offaly, first applied for funding in 1999.
Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes last night said the figures represent an "appalling lack of progress" at a time when construction prices are at an all-time low and value for money on capital projects is better than ever.
Last February, Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe announced 78 projects would go to tender and construction in the course of the year as the Government moved to ramp-up its school building programme.
"The Minister for Education has had a serious opportunity to speed up the sluggish school building programme while ensuring value for money but, instead, the programme has proceeded at a snail's pace in 2009," Mr Hayes said.
The number of new classrooms fell sharply in 2009, with 40pc fewer classrooms built compared to the previous year.
Some of the delays have been blamed on a new type of public contract introduced by the Department of Finance in February 2008.
But Mr Hayes said it was intolerable to claim that a lack of familiarity with paperwork is the reason for holding up the school building programme.
"It is also only four weeks since the minister announced the school building programme for 2010.
"With the lack of progress on the 2009 announcement now confirmed, one can only imagine what will happen to the 52 projects announced for this year," he said.
A spokesman for Mr O'Keeffe last night claimed there were a "number of reasons" why some projects had been delayed. These included site acquisition issues, planning permission and the new form of public works contract.
"However, the facts are that this year the Government is investing €579m in the school building programme -- over six times the paltry Fine Gael spend when that party was last in power," the spokesman said.
"We expect fewer delays this year as the construction industry and schools become more familiar with the new form of public works contract."
Mr O'Keeffe has also insisted that the 30 projects currently at tender stage will progress to construction this year.
The 12 projects currently at pre-tender stage will proceed to tender and construction "as soon as possible".
According to the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, there are about 1,200 schools nationwide awaiting on major building works.