Fears for old school hit by fire in Galway

 

An Taisce has expressed concern about one of Galway's finest Georgian buildings, the Grammar School, after a fire destroyed its roof some weeks ago.

The 19th-century school in College Road has been the subject of a derelict buildings order since a previous fire in 1996. An Taisce has called on Galway Corporation to take legal action to secure the order so the building will not be lost.

Earlier this month Galway Fire Brigade spent several hours fighting the fire, which caused internal structural damage.

Regarded as the city's most prestigious building, the school was built in 1815 by the prominent architect, Sir Richard Morris. It was run by the Erasmus Smith Foundation, and was sold by the Protestant community in Galway in the 1950s to the university, for use by the college's department of oceanography.

In 1992 it was acquired by a local development company, which sought planning permission for apartments on adjoining land. Calls were made by environmentalists for the corporation to purchase the building.

The school is on Galway Corporation's List Two, which states: "It is the intention of the corporation to consider the preservation of the buildings and other structures of artistic, architectural or historic interest . . . in the event of an application for permission being made to alter or demolish the building or structure".

Three years ago the Heritage Council sought information from the corporation on the building's status and was informed that the present ownership was in dispute. The corporation said it had informed the relevant parties that the building must not be allowed to become derelict.

The local authority also said that it would consider acquiring the building if it could be secured at an appropriate price, and if it became available when the issue of ownership was sorted out.

The chairman of An Taisce's Galway branch, Mr Derrick Hambleton, said the corporation must take legal action to ensure the derelict buildings order was enforced, and must consider a compulsory purchase order to acquire it for the city. He also paid tribute to Galway Fire Brigade for containing the fire.

"We are aware that there are legal difficulties over the present ownership, but these surely are minor," Mr Hambleton said in a submission to the local authority. The owners should be obliged to replace the roof, render the building waterproof and block up any unauthorised access until the local authority made a decision on its future.

He claimed the building could be transformed into an art gallery, library or museum, and could also serve as the city's disability resource centre. "If nothing is done this building will inevitably disappear, having been condemned as unsafe, and more apartments will be built in its place," he said.

A spokesman for Galway Corporation told The Irish Times that some security work had been carried out since the fire and it was satisfied that access was restricted. There were no immediate plans to acquire the building.