Monday 16 September 2019

Major school building projects are locked in limbo for up to 20 years

Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Thomas Byrne. Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Thomas Byrne. Photo: Tom Burke
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Major school building projects promised as long as 20 years ago are stuck in a logjam waiting for construction to begin.

Of the 70 projects at the stage just before they go out to tender, nine have been there for five years, 19 for three years and 19 for two years. And it takes schools several years even to get to that point.

Among the projects that have waited longest is St Joseph's College, Lucan, Co Dublin, where a full design team was appointed in September 1999. The school needs an extension to cater for expanding enrolments and modernise existing facilities.

Energy

The Department of Education attributes many of the delays to recent regulations requiring new buildings to be "near-zero energy" buildings.

Others have fallen victim to the collapse of construction contractors and, in some cases, design teams withdrew and had to be replaced.

Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Thomas Byrne said there were only nine major school projects currently out to tender, three of which were re-tenders.

"School building is at a record low," he said. "There are so many projects sitting for many years waiting to go to tender and there is an extremely low number of projects out to tender.

"Many schools are not likely to see their projects realised any time soon, despite what is written in Project Ireland 2040."

He said one primary school, Lismullen, Co Meath, was depending heavily on pre-fabs.

When a school has been approved for a new building, or a major extension, there is a five-stage process from preliminary design through detailed design, tender, construction and handover.

The department said the period of time it took to progress through each one varied from project to project depending on its size and complexity.

Design teams are appointed to progress major projects through architectural planning and, once they are in place, a project should progress quickly to the completion of Stage 2B, which includes the preparation of tender documents.

In the case of St Joseph's College in Lucan, the department said replacement civil and structural engineers and mechanical and electrical consultants had to be appointed to the project both in January 2012 and again in March 2015.

In the case of the major project for Scoil an Chroí Naofa, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, a design team was appointed in June 2001 and the project moved to Stage 2B in May 2011. A replacement civil and structural consultant became necessary and was appointed in January 2015.

It said both projects had encountered significant delays during the architectural planning process for a variety of reasons, including the replacement appointments.

As a result of new "green" building regulations introduced in 2017, design teams are now required to upgrade designs at stage 2b to ensure they are "near-zero energy".

However, Fianna Fáil TD John Curran, who has been pressing the case for St Joseph's, said the regulations were relatively new and did not explain all the delays.

Irish Independent

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