Landmark day as sod is finally turned on new St Patrick's Special School
The beautiful autumn sunshine was symbolic of the light at the end of the tunnel for the Board of Management, staff, parents and pupils of St Patrick's Special School last week as the sod was finally turned on their new school build at Drumgoold on Wednesday.
There were plenty of beaming smiles as the spade entered the ground in the shadow of Vinegar Hill, signifying a near end to what has been a desperate struggle for all involved at the school.
While Principal Lee Rogers has been the face of the struggle to see a new school built for the past five years, upwards of 18 years have passed since the project was first mooted and two previous principals failed to see the project progress to the momentous stage it reached last week. The current St Patrick's School is completely unfit for purpose and has been for quite some time, with damp and draughty prefabs and a complete lack of green areas for the students to play in.
Just over a year ago, completely at their wits end with nearly 600 days having passed since the project's proposed start date, Lee and his staff began to speak out on the matter publicly. Mr Rogers made an impassioned public plea and erected a sign at the gate of the school, counting each day since the project was supposed to have started. As a bus full of staff and students left the school for the Drumgoold site on Wednesday, it read 983 days. Thankfully though, the sod-turning was the beginning and local contractors Mythens aim to have the school ready to go in 18 months.
'I'm delighted this is finally coming to an end,' said a smiling Lee Rogers. 'I've only been here five years, but all in all this project is 18 years coming. There's been such a big community input into getting us to this point, it's fantastic.'
Recalling the desperate lows of a year previously, Lee recalled how his campaign began with a simple post on social media.
'I remember we had had kind of a bad week in the school that week,' he said. 'I was at home with my wife watching The Late Late show or something like that. I started to write my thoughts down and I thought to myself, this is wrong. Something has to be done about this. The post went up then and I think it really touched a nerve with some of the parents. The reaction in the local community was fantastic. I think everyone knows someone who uses St Pat's. It was something we shouldn't have had to do in the first place really. You shouldn't have to fight for basic educational requirements for any child. But after all that, we're really delighted to be here at this stage today and we look forward to moving into our new school in 18 months time, all going to plan.'
Mr Rogers also thanked local TDs Paul Kehoe and James Browne, as well as Cllr Johnny Mythen all of whom were there for the sod turning ceremony. Speaking ahead of doing the honours, Minister Kehoe said:
'I'd like to congratulate the parents and pupils of St Patrick's. They've been a long time waiting for this. Also a huge congratulations to Lee (Rogers). He put a huge amount of pressure on us politicians and we were then able to pass this pressure on to the department to get the project over the line. This is a brilliant day for everyone involved and I'm also delighted to see a local contractor in Mythen Brothers appointed to the project. I wish them all the best in delivering the school on time and on budget and I have no doubt it will be extremely well fitted out.'
Deputy Browne added that, after what had been a hard fight, it was great to see the project come to fruition at last.
'I'm delighted to finally see the sod turned and the construction company on site,' he said.
'It's great to see that this has finally become a reality after a long fight and huge pressure from Lee, his staff and the parents. My own God daughter Molly is in the school here, so from a personal point of view I'm delighted as well. A society is measured by how it looks after its most vulnerable. This school hasn't been fit for purpose for a long, long time and it's great to finally see we're at this stage.'
Mythens are expected to get to work on-site immediately and are hopeful that the target of 18 months will be met.