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School building projects delayed because of funding pressures


Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

School building projects are being delayed because of funding pressures.

The multi-denominational body, Educate Together, said the Department of Education has told them that some projects due to go to construction in 2023 were now on hold.

The department blamed funding pressures and said a review was being conducted.

Spiralling construction inflation and growing demands for new accommodation, including to cater for special classes, are squeezing the budget.

According to Educate Together, schools under their patronage impacted by the delay include Harold’s Cross ETNS and Harold’s Cross ETSS in Dublin 6, and Shellybanks ETNS and Sandymount Park ETSS in Dublin 4.

The Harold’s Cross and Sandymount schools, which were opened to cater for growing populations in their areas, are currently in temporary accommodation on their permanent sites.

Educate Together said “they will simply run out of space if construction does not commence as soon as possible.”

CEO Emer Nowlan said they had been pleased to see some improvements in the school building programme in recent months, with the handover of five permanent buildings for Educate Together schools in the past year, and sites confirmed for a number of others.

But she added: “We were dismayed, however, to learn that several projects due to commence this year are now delayed.”

Paula Mulhall, principal of Sandymount Park Educate Together Secodnry School (ETSS)  said the news that tendering for their new build was paused  was “extremely disappointing”.

“This delay will inevitably have a negative impact on the development of our school. Due to the limitations of our interim accommodation our enrolment numbers are restricted and we have a long waitlist of disappointed students whose first preference is to join our school,” she said.

She said growth was being hindered by their current accommodation and the facilities available to our students were not what they should be.

"We cannot offer the full range of practical subjects and whilst we can adjust for this in the short term, a protracted delay to the tender for the permanent build will disadvantage our students into the long term.”

Education Minister Norma Foley started 2023 with a budget of €860m for school building and upgrading, but it quickly emerged it was not enough to pay for commitments this year.

Her officials have been in talks with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform seeking funding to enable them “to adequately support the operation of the school system with rollout of school building projects to construction in 2023.”

“The Department is actively engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform in relation to its capital funding pressures” a spokesperson told Independent.ie this week.

In a series of recent replies to parliamentary questions, Ms Foley said that her department's planning and building unit was assessing its work programme and priorities for 2023 in the context of available funding, noting that high construction inflation remained a feature.

She said key priorities included planning ahead for the 2023/24 school year and beyond, and supporting special needs provision.

Apart from the threat to new builds, Ms Foley has not been in a position to give a timeline for the annual payment of grants to primary schools to carry out minor works. The grant is usually worth about €30m.

Last year, the department’s capital budget overshot considerably because of construction inflation and extra demand  and Ms Foley got approval for a supplementary €300m, bringing the total spend to €1.12bn at the end of 2022.

Last year, the department completed 180 school building projects, with almost 300 school builds continuing in construction at the start of 2023.

Most of the 300 jobs already underway were expected to finish this year, while there are also a range of other commitments, including projects that haven’t yet started.

The 2022 building programme covered the accelerated delivery of modular accommodation for special classes and special schools and supported the enrolment of over 13,500 children from Ukraine in schools.

It also supported necessary refurbishment and maintenance in nearly 1,000 schools and 16 deep energy retrofit projects.

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