When the bell goes, the school building sways
Principal says St Paul’s has been based out of temporary prefabs for 18 years
The crowded corridors at St Paul’s Secondary School in Monasterevin, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dave Meehan/ The Irish Times
The corridor quickly fills with a swarm of students who have to squeeze past each other to get by.
“It’s like being on a boat,” says principal Brian Bergin. “Eighteen of the 27 classes are in prefabs. That’s why you can feel the whole building move.”
The prefabs were supposed to be a temporary arrangement when they were first introduced about 18 years ago. “We’re still waiting,” he says.
St Paul’s is one of about 340 schools on the Department of Education’s building programme. In addition, there are about 575 schools on a waiting list for “major projects” such as refurbishments or extensions.
While record sums of money are being funnelled into building new schools to cater to a growing population, there are concerns that schools such as St Paul’s are at the back of the queue for urgent upgrades.
As a Deis school we strive to give equal educational opportunities to our students. The current school facilities do not provide equality
Bergin says the old school building was deemed “structurally unsound” following a gas explosion in 2000. Most of the pupils have since been based in temporary prefabs.
Enrolment dipped initially, but has been growing in more recent years, putting pressure on all aspects of school life.
Bergin says the PE hall is used to teach multiple classes at the same time, as there is nowhere else to go. The staffroom gets so crowded that some teachers correct assignments in their cars.
He says the school – which has disadvantaged or Deis status – wants to provide more educational opportunities to pupils but is stuck.
“We’d like to expand our curriculum to include engineering, technology, computer science and PE, but we don’t have the space,” he says.
“As a Deis school we strive to give equal educational opportunities to our students. The current school facilities do not provide equality. Instead, they exacerbate disadvantage.”
Our experiences to date have been one long cycle of raising our hopes, and then having them dashed
The Department of Education says a new school building has been delayed due to a range of planning issues.
Officials say they are progressing the conveyancing process and it is anticipated construction will begin towards the end of 2019.
More broadly, the department says it is building more school places than during any other period in the history of the State, while investment is set to increase dramatically over the coming decade.
Bergin, however, says staff are not raising their expectations for a new building just yet.
“Our experiences to date have been one long cycle of raising our hopes, and then having them dashed,” he says. “Morale is good, considering the challenging working conditions. We’ve managed to increase enrolment thanks to our dedicated staff, in spite of the facilities.”