Children at almost 100 schools have moved from hundreds of prefabs into permanent classrooms in the last six months and over 85 more projects are expected to benefit thousands of pupils next year.
As announced last June, the Department of Education has allocated €15m to allow 46 primary and second-level schools build new classrooms in place of mostly rented prefabs in the current school year.
Most of the funding will be spent in 2014, resulting in moves for around 2,600 pupils, but 99 projects from a previous replacement initiative have been completed since June.
That earlier scheme, launched in spring 2012 by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, set out to replace 458 prefabs with permanent accommodation at 170 schools. With more than €37m already spent, 129 projects are now finished and 29 more are under way.
“It means that thousands of pupils and their teachers finally have a quality roof over their heads — often after many years of teaching and learning in prefabs,” the minister said.
The cost of renting school accommodation, mostly — but not all — on prefabs, has fallen from €39m in 2009 to just over €25m this year.
However, the spend is slightly up from €24.7m in 2012, a rise that may be linked to rapid population growth in some parts of the country and more space for additional special needs teachers and special classes. The 115 prefab units to be replaced under the latest initiative contain 119 full classrooms and 37 resource-teaching rooms.
Most of the rent savings were achieved on foot of Department of Education work under the last government. But Mr Quinn said his work in opposition to highlight the significant spending on prefab rental was behind a Programme for Government commitment to phase out the inefficient practice.
The €2m annual savings expected to materialise from the latest scheme will be in addition to the eventual €5m the department says should be saved each year when all 170 of the projects announced last year are completed.
“Replacing prefabs offers better accommodation for students and savings for schools and the exchequer, as well as providing construction jobs. So I am delighted that we are building on our Programme for Government commitment and providing modern, high-quality accommodation for pupils and teachers,” Mr Quinn said.
“It is a real scandal that during the building boom, years of the so-called Celtic Tiger, so many of our children were educated in sub-standard prefabs,” he said.
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