Waterford school still in prefab 25 years later

 

A PRIMARY SCHOOL in Co Waterford whose pupils have to take physical education classes outside in “all conditions” because of a lack of facilities is still holding classes in prefabricated buildings 25 years after it opened.

Management of Gaelscoil Philib Barún in Crobally Upper in Tramore wants the Department of Education to replace its prefabs with buildings.

Daithí de Paor, principal at the school, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in October, said: “We’re on the permanent building list with 1,200 other schools and our project is not being progressed.

“We had to do our Christmas plays in makeshift classrooms – walking a half mile to a rented hall, even for rehearsals. And we’ve never done PE inside, even in this weather . . . in all conditions,” Mr de Paor said. “This school has been in situ here for 25 years and this is something that’s quite particular to primary schools around the country,” he added.

He said that earlier this year the school sought a meeting with Minister for Education Mary Coughlan and was told by the Department of Education that it was “premature” to meet with them, though the school has been waiting for facilities for so long.

“We wrote again recently asking for a meeting with the Minister but all we got back was a letter of acknowledgement,” he said.

About €1.6 million had been spent on purchasing a site and building prefabs for the Tramore school, while another school, Gaelscoil Loch Garman in Co Wexford, was built in 2004 for €1.2 million, he said. Meanwhile, more than €62,500 a year is being spent on the rental of three classrooms, it emerged.

“They were in our situation in 2000; they had a site but they refused prefabs and held out in absolutely shocking accommodation,” Mr de Paor said. “We wash and clean these prefabs because we do the job properly, and they say we have no reason to call this an emergency.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said the progression of all large-scale building projects including that for Gaelscoil Philib Barún would be considered in the context of the department’s school building and modernisation programme for 2011 “and subsequent years”.

“In the light of competing demands on the department’s capital budget for 2011 and beyond, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of this project at the present time,” she said.

The Department said it would continue to work with the school authority regarding its accommodation needs.

SCHOOLROOM RENT: STATE PAYS €27M:

THE DEPARTMENT of Education is still paying €27 million a year in rent on prefabs for schools – despite an estimated 40 per cent decline in tender prices for permanent buildings.

A survey by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) shows that several schools in every county are paying rent of more than €100,000 on prefabs. These include 25 schools in Cork and close to 40 primary schools in Dublin. In all, the department is renting 1,744 prefabricated buildings at an annual cost of €27 million.

The department said it has managed to achieve savings of €26 million in the past two years, a clear indication, it said, of its success in cutting costs.

However, Sheila Nunan, INTO general secretary, said yesterday there was no economic or educational argument for year-after-year investment in prefabs. Huge sums could be saved by building permanent school buildings, she added.

In all, the department will spend €379 million on primary school buildings this year. Surplus capacity in the construction industry means it is now getting much better value for money on building contracts.

Ms Nunan said the continued use of prefabs was unacceptable from an economic perspective and from an educational point of view. “They are too hot in summer and too cold in winter and the acoustics are often as poor as the insulation.

“Prefabs are generally too small to enable teachers to implement the curriculum so in a very basic sense they are not fit for purpose.

“If ever evidence was needed that primary education was not a priority for Government during the boom years, it is the sight of thousands of prefabs outside schools in towns and villages up and down the land. There’s no need for sat-nav when looking for a primary school – prefabs point the way.”

State spending on prefabs boomed in the past decade. In 2000, annual spending on prefabs totalled just €4 million. Since 2003, the department opted to rent rather than purchase prefab structures.

– SEÁN FLYNN