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Schools face delays in reopening as builders must tender for work

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Education: Norma Foley said funding was on its way to schools. Photo: Stephen Collins / Collins Photos Dublin

Education: Norma Foley said funding was on its way to schools. Photo: Stephen Collins / Collins Photos Dublin

Education: Norma Foley said funding was on its way to schools. Photo: Stephen Collins / Collins Photos Dublin

There are fears schools have "very little chance" of being completely ready to reopen in four weeks' time as they will be obliged to engage in a tender process for any building work that has to be carried out to enable physical distancing for pupils.

During the last sitting of the Dáil before a six-week break, independent TD Michael McNamara asked Education Minister Norma Foley if schools would have to invite tenders for the necessary works, which could lead to significant delays.

"I'm ashamed to be a member of this Dáil," Mr McNamara said. "We set an appalling example by decamping from Dáil Éireann down here to this glass palace [the Convention Centre], which is costing thousands every day, but how much could that money do for our schools."

He added: "I appreciate you're not terribly long in the job, Minister Foley, but schools are reopening in less than four weeks' time, so when are these works going to be carried out and will they be carried out on time?"

Ms Foley confirmed schools will receive the necessary funding by the end of next week.

However, when asked specifically about the tender process, she said "schools will know themselves what's involved".

A spokesperson for the Department of Education confirmed to the Irish Independent that schools will be required to obtain three quotes for any minor works needed and they must retain documentary evidence, whether received in writing or over the phone.

Páiric Clerkin, CEO of the Irish Primary Principals' Network, said there are also concerns over securing planning permission for prefabs in time for reopening. "It will be a logistical nightmare to get planning permission for prefabs over the line in such a short space of time," he said.

The planning process has been hit with serious delays due to the pandemic.

Some schools which applied for planning for prefabs before the crisis hit have yet to receive approval.

Rachel O'Connor, principal of Ramsgrange Community School, in Co Wexford, told the Irish Independent: "I don't know on what planet you could get prefabs in situ in four weeks' time: it's not ­physically possible.

"The schools are being left to find people to carry out these works but it's very difficult to find any available at the moment."

The Government has provided a €75m package to fund any works required to enable physical distancing in schools.

Some of these measures include the reconfiguration of classroom space, the re-­purposing of rooms, the purchase of furniture, the altering of desk layouts and the adaptation of toilet areas.

Ms Foley said schools would be required to "exhaust all other options" before resorting to off-campus accommodation, such as parish halls.

"They have to be able to show there was a justifiable need for that and that all other options have been exhausted," she told the Dáil.

Mr McNamara said he feels the Government is "washing its hands" of responsibility by leaving it up to the schools to get the necessary works ­carried out.

"Given that each school setting is different, individual schools are best placed to decide on the appropriate re-configuration measures for their school, necessary to facilitate school reopening," the department said.

Meanwhile, the department has completed the tender process for personal protective equipment for schools and has a number of suppliers in place.

Schools will be able to order the necessary equipment from next week. This includes hand sanitiser, disposable paper towels, wipes, face masks, detergents and hand soap.

The list of suppliers will be ranked in order of price and service.

Irish Independent