Friday 23 March 2018

Chaos as school-building work stalled days before new term

Breda Heffernan

PUPILS and parents face chaos ahead of the new academic year because a number of school-building projects have stalled due to last-minute problems.

The Irish Independent has learned of problems at two school-building projects just a week before the start of the school year.

In Co Cavan, a rural primary school is already organising alternative accommodation for its 130 pupils after problems arose with the construction of a long-awaited extension.

Work at Laragh National School in Stradone ground to a halt last week after issues arose with a local building firm.

And in Co Donegal, the board of management of Finn Valley College is to hold an emergency meeting amid concerns its new €6m school building will not open to 325 students on schedule following a dispute between contractors.

An expert in school-building projects said boards of management were now dealing with many of the same problems as other large-scale construction projects.

Susan Bryson, a solicitor with Mason, Hayes and Curran which advises schools on building projects, said boards of management typically didn't have experience of large construction projects.

She said, through no fault of their own, it could be difficult for volunteer members meeting once every six to eight weeks to keep on top of large projects.

"It really is a message of active management. Somebody on the board has to take control of it," she added.

She recommended that, on large projects, schools asked the Department of Education for funding for a clerk of works who manages the day-to-day running on the project.

Bernie Power, chair of the board of management at Laragh National School, said contingency plans were in place if the extension and refurbishment works were not finished in time.

"Recently there has been public concern raised in relation to the status of the extension work. We are engaging with all the relevant parties in the project to address these concerns," she said.

Ms Power added the first stage of works was just two weeks away from completion.


Aidan Elliott Construction, which has the contract for the works, did not return calls for comment, and no one was available to comment at its offices in Stradone yesterday.

In Stranorlar, Co Donegal, 325 students at Finn Valley College are due to relocate to a new, state-of-the-art €6m campus next week.

However, Maggie Gilbert, a member of the parents' association and the board of management, said this might not now happen.

Ms Gilbert claimed issues had arisen between the main contractor and a subcontractor and her daughter's start date had already been pushed back from Monday to Thursday of next week.

MaryAnn Kane, chief executive of the Donegal Vocation Education Committee, which is overseeing the project, said yesterday that the committee was "actively working" to ensure the new school would be operational on time.

The Department of Education said it had not been informed of any difficulties with the Finn Valley College project.

In the case of Laragh National School, the department said it provided the grant and the school was responsible for overseeing the project.

Irish Independent

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