Decision expected 'in weeks' on St Catherine's new school site
It is expected that a site for a brand new state-of-the-art school for St Catherine's Special School will be announced in the coming weeks.
Two sites in Kilcoole have gone through a suitability appraisal and valuation report stage and a decision over the most suitable site will be made in the next few weeks.
St Catherine's Association is a non-profit making organisation which provides education, training, healthcare and residential/respite care to clients who have intellectual and other disabilities.
Health Minister Simon Harris met with Minister for Education Joe McHugh last week to discuss the delivery of a new school for St Catherine's, which is currently based in Newcastle. Following a protracted process with one location, Minister Harris had previously asked the Department to consider other site options in order to ensure building works began soon.
'Having met with parents in May, I felt it was crucial the Department start looking at alternative sites for St Catherine's,' said Minister Harris.
'Progress on securing the original site seemed to have stalled and we can no longer wait for the outstanding issues to be resolved. I am really pleased the Department of Education listened when we asked them to take action on this and today I have received confirmation that they have now completed both the site suitability appraisal report and the independent valuation stage of another site which the board and parents feel will work well for the school.'
The school has been looking to expand since as far back as 1999. Cllr Irene Winters said a new school for St Catherine's is long over-due.
'There is already a huge demand to attend St Catherine's and they have been waiting for a new school for an awfully long time. They also aren't in a position to provide all the services required by families. There are two site options and hopefully one of those sites will be secured soon. Whichever site gets over the line first and gets a commitment as the location for a new school will be the one I will support.'
The Department of Education is now embarking on the next phase which is negotiations with the vendors. Government funding for a new school was announced back in 2011.
'It is crucial that this phase is completed quickly so work can begin to design phase and issue building tenders,' said Minister Harris. 'Once we have the site purchased, work can get underway immediately to prepare for an appropriate school for the children in our community. We now have two sites that have both come through the suitability appraisal and valuation report stage for St Catherine's - it's now time to be able to say with certainty where the schools new home will be. I will continue to put pressure on the Department of Education to ensure we can get building started as soon as possible. We have secured Government funding to build a new state of the art school for the St Catherine's. Once a site is secured, which I expect to happen in the coming weeks, it will be full steam ahead to get this building under way.'