Surge in school applications to upgrade ventilation and outdoor play areas

Minister announces €65m for 500 projects under summer works scheme

Minister for Education Norma Foley  says the funding is being announced now to allow schools a good lead-in period to plan and deliver the projects this summer. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Minister for Education Norma Foley says the funding is being announced now to allow schools a good lead-in period to plan and deliver the projects this summer. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

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There has been a surge in applications from schools to upgrade their buildings with better ventilation and outdoor play areas, new figures show.

Minister for Education Norma Foley has announced that 500 projects have been approved for upgrades worth €65 million under this year’s summer works scheme.

This compares with a total of 275 approved projects last year at a cost of €31 million.

Separately, the Department of Education has confirmed that Covid risk mitigation measures – such as wearing masks – are to remain in schools until at least the end of the midterm break on February 28th.

They are due to be reviewed in advance of this date and any changes will be communicated before schools reopen.

The summer works scheme, meanwhile, is designed to allow schools to carry out small and medium-scale building works that will improve and upgrade existing school buildings.

Many of the projects this year include window replacements, improvement to yards and play areas, as well as new science labs, roofs, mechanical and electrical works.

In a statement, Ms Foley said the funding was being announced now to allow schools a good lead-in period to plan and deliver the projects this summer.

“School communities have done an exceptional job in adapting to the changes required to operate safely in a Covid-19 environment,” she said.

“A key priority is to continue to support and sustain the operation of schools in this context. I am particularly pleased that the cohort of projects announced today include window improvement/replacement projects in schools which will assist in managing ventilation in these schools.”

Outside play areas

She said improvements to external yards and play areas were key as the provision of “fun and engaging outside play areas” was equally important in helping students and young learners engage with each other in a Covid-19 environment.

The funding is separate to last month’s decision to provide €62 million in minor works grants as part of additional pandemic-related supports.

Under this programme, schools have flexibility on how they use funding to improve their premises including the purchase of high-efficiency particulate-absorbing filter (Hepa) machines if they are deemed necessary.

A breakdown of the projects announced on Monday show the majority (309) are at primary level and involve mechanical works (89 schools), electrical works (65 schools), window projects (89 schools) and external yards/play areas (64 schools).

At second level (109 projects), upgrades include roof works (81 schools), mechanical works (34 schools), electrical works (12 schools), window projects (35 schools), science labs (23 schools) and yards/play areas (five schools).

Ms Foley said it was envisaged that the remaining categories of projects from the current multi-annual summer works scheme would be dealt with as part of next year’s summer works programme in 2023. Relevant schools will be notified towards the end of this year.

The Minister added that a new multi-annual summer works scheme with a strong climate action aspect would be open for new applications in the first half of this year.

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