THE lights are on – and so is the heating – but the classrooms are empty.
A dispute between the Department of Education and a developer has left a new school standing idle despite being virtually completed 18 months ago at a cost of €2.7m.
Meanwhile, children continue to be taught in antiquated prefabs infested with mice.
The developer said the school does not comply with fire safety regulations, and blamed the department for neglecting to obtain local authority approval.
Now frustrated parents and children of St Anne's National School in Ardclough, Co Kildare, have staged a protest they hope will spur on officials to resolve the issue.
A spokesperson for the department said it had "terminated" the contractor's obligation to complete the works last September, but refused to be drawn, saying "legal issues" were involved.
The developer, Glenman, said the school does not comply with planning permission conditions relating to fire safety, but this is "unrelated" to the company's contract since it completed the school to the department's design. Glenman added: "Technically, the school seems to be an unauthorised development."
The firm said it was involved in conciliation proceedings with the department about its damages claim following the termination of the contract. It said it had completed the works and all that remained to be done after mid-February 2012 was the usual process of "snagging", or finishing off.
"Despite this, the department still refused to certify the school as being complete and take the school over," Glenman said.
Yesterday, parents brandishing placards modelled on whiteboards invited pupils to complete the sentence "I want my school to open because . . .".
The children came up with 384 reasons.
"I'm tired of sharing my classroom with furry friends (mice)," said one seven-year-old girl.
A young boy said: "I don't like having a puddle in my class every time it rains."
Some 250 pupils and 18 staff are making do in overcrowded prefabs clustered around the original school building which dates from 1949.
One of four sisters at the school, Tara Byrne (12), said: "It's frustrating that we can't get into our new school. It's like Santa has arrived and we're not allowed to open the present."
Families are concerned that if the work does not resume immediately, another September will pass without the new facility opening.
Parent Leeann Matthews said they had been kept in the dark regarding the problems that halted work on the building. She also said the school had been lit up "like a Christmas tree" every evening, the heating was on and there was 24-hour security on site, all at substantial cost to the taxpayer.
Principal Patricia King said the biggest worry was that pupils would not get in for the start of term in September if work did not begin immediately. "Parents and children are upset because anyone passing the building would think it's completed," she said.
The department spokesperson said that "subject to no issues arising", works would resume next month to complete the school by the end of June.