A €1.5bn Government plan to build or extend 275 schools has been given a guarded welcome.
However, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s five-year school building plan was also the subject of complaints of ‘spin’ and claims he was repackaging old announcements of some projects that are already under way.
Among the projects to be funded between now and 2016 are:
* 106 new schools at primary level.
* 65 large extensions to existing primary schools.
* 43 new second-level schools.
* 49 large extensions to second-level schools.
neight new special schools and extensions to four special schools.
The 275 schools concerned include the 40 primary and second-level schools which Mr Quinn said would be set up in the next few years to meet demand because of growing populations, mostly in Dublin and surrounding counties. By 2018, the number of children at school is expected to grow by 45,000 at primary level to more than 550,000, and from 351,000 to 376,000 at second level.
“We have to ensure every child growing up in Ireland can access a physical school place,” said Mr Quinn.
“Our programme unveiled today means that schools and parents will be able to plan much better for their children’s education at a time when enrolments at both primary and second level are rising dramatically”.
The 275 projects will cost €1.5bn of the €2bn to be spent on schools up to 2016, and Mr Quinn says this will create 18,000 jobs, including 3,000 indirect jobs.
The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) praised the minister and his department, saying it was the type of investment needed to get the sector working again.
However, it also warned that fairer tender guidelines must be set to ensure most contractors are eligible to compete for the work.
“We don’t want to see a situation arise where many Irish contractors are not allowed to even tender for these projects,” said CIF director general Tom Parlon.
“There is a very strict tendering process in place for school building. It does not help the economy if these building projects start to go to construction companies from outside of the State. That will not provide a boost to employment in the Irish construction sector.”
Fianna Fáil education spokesman Brendan Smith said many of the schools listed as “new” projects had already been announced and were at an advanced stage of planning or construction.
The €430m being spent this year includes building work beginning on 56 schools already announced in December. This year’s fund is down from €500m last year and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said the withdrawal of funding for repairs and maintenance will mean schools will find it hard to maintain buildings to an acceptable standard.
The union said the department’s claim that the plan would result in 106 new primary schools was confusing, as just 17 brand new schools would be built and the other projects were new buildings for schools operating in prefabs or dilapidated accommodation.
“Many will still have to endure unsatisfactory buildings for several more years,” said INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan.
“However, there are many more schools in need of urgent upgrade which are not covered, and parents and teachers will want to know when those buildings will be addressed.”
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