Tuesday 16 January 2018

Still no start date in sight for St Patrick's Special School

Lee Rogers, principal of St Patrick's Special School
Lee Rogers, principal of St Patrick's Special School

Pádraig Byrne

The board of management at St Patrick's Special School have been left fuming after being informed that the construction of their desperately needed new school at Drumgoold has been delayed for a third time. The project has been in the pipeline since the site for the new school was purchased back in 2007 and a start date of February 2016 had been set after planning permission was granted in 2014.

A total of 595 days have passed since this proposed start date and work is still no closer to getting underway with the school last week being informed that all work had now been postponed until Spring 2018. While a flurry of new schools and extensions have been built and opened all over the county, students at St Patrick's Special School are facing into another winter in draughty prefabs on two different sites, neither of which has a playground.

School Principal Lee Rodgers is at his wits end and, over the weekend, took to social media to encourage the public to raise the matter with their local TDs and representatives.

'There's always some excuse with this,' said Mr Rodgers. 'According to the original documents, we should have been on site in February 2016 and work should have finished in May off this year. We should've been having our official opening this September.

'Now the situation is that the project hasn't even gone to tender and no builder means no start date. I've been in touch with the architects on several occasions and the latest I've been told is that "hopefully pre-tender documents should be ready by Christmas". The staff and the families here do amazing work, but we need a building that's suitable for the kids' needs. It's the kids I feel sorry for. While all of this is held up with tender documents and new guidelines, the years drift by. These kids have it hard enough in life. The least we can do is provide them with an appropriate school building.'

One of the many issues with the current site is the complete lack of any sort of playground. Currently, the pupils use a car park to play and, shockingly, one of the Senior Autism Classes has had to resort to using the graveyard down the road to go for a walk or play in any kind of greenery.

'The site at Bohreen Hill was originally built to house four classes,' said Mr Rodgers. 'Now it's home to 11 classrooms, eight of which are prefabs, which carry their own costs in terms of heating and patching them up. It's throwing good money after bad.'

At this point, everyone associated with the school has grown weary of excuses and just want to see some tangible progress being mad at long last.

'We've gotten to the point now where even if we had a solid start date it would be something,' said Mr Rodgers. 'Even if someone said: "work will start on this day in two years time" - at least its a solid date and it would be some light at the end of the tunnel. At the moment, we just keep getting pushed further and further down the line. You see new schools going up all over the county, and it's great to see, but I just don't know why we're constantly being pushed to the back of the queue.'

Fianna Fáil TD James Browne has branded the situation as 'outrageous' and says that the Minister for Education Richard Bruton is 'letting these children down'.

'This is the most important school in Wexford to get really,' said Deputy Browne. 'It's been needed for a long time. They're operating in such cramped conditions up there at the moment, and nobody can think of any reason for these delays. It seems the Minister is dragging his heels and isn't treating this as a priority, when it clearly needs to be one. I've submitted numerous parliamentary questions on the matter and have just been told that it's at a certain stage and is expected to advance. I will do everything in my power to raise this matter in the Dáil this week though and to tackle the Minister on it.'

Meanwhile, Minister of State Paul Kehoe says that the project is moving forward, albeit at a tedious pace. The Fine Gael TD said that the project was held up considerably in the design phase and that it was now in pre-tender phase, gathering documents ahead of putting the project out to tender, which should happen around Christmas time. Minister Kehoe said that he was due to meet with the Minister of Education today (Tuesday) and would be raising the issue with him as a matter of urgency and trying to get to the bottom of these constant delays.

Enniscorthy Guardian

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