Axing of repairs grant to hit schools

PROBLEMS like leaky roofs, backed-up toilets and missing slates may become a major issue for primary school principals following a decision to axe a special “repairs” grant from the end of this month.

Described as a “lifesaver” by the Irish Primary Principal’s Network (IPPN), the Minor Works Grant was used to carry out repairs and improve facilities, such as replacing windows or upgrading toilet facilities.

This week, however, 3,248 schools throughout the country will receive their last tranche of funding under the scheme, according to the Department of Education, “restraints” on capital funding and the need for additional school places mean it’s “unlikely” the grant will be available in the coming years.

The loss of the grant, which, depending on the size of the school, could be anything from €5,500 to €20,000, could mean that many school buildings will fall into disrepair as a result of minor problems mounting up, the IPPN has warned:

“It was a tremendous grant because it stopped schools falling into disrepair — not every school could get the Summer Works grant or the Emergency Works Grant,” said director Sean Cottrell.

“It was essential for small jobs that didn’t cost a fortune,” he said, adding that schools had a certain amount of discretion as to how the money was spent.

“Its main advantage was that it was bureaucracy-free. If you needed to carry out a repair job it was there to be used.

“This will be a big loss to schools. It means there will be no funds for the smaller jobs, and in primary schools a stitch in time saves nine, so the loss of this grant will mean that problems will mount and schools will fall into disrepair.”

The loss of the grant also means schools will increasingly have to turn to fundraising, warned Larry Fleming, principal of the 250-pupil Ballinamere National School in Tullamore Co Offaly.

“This money would have been used to deal with small problems that would have the potential to disrupt the running of the school. Schools will now have to resort to increased fundraising,” he said.

Mr Fleming said it would have been wiser to limit the Minor Works Grant to schools that really need it.

“Newer schools would not have as much in need of this grant as much as old schools, because they wouldn’t have problems like rotting window frames.”

As a result of the decision, he said, many older schools, particularly designs dating to the ’60s and ’70s, would suffer: “They will have slates falling off roofs or sewage systems backing up and they will have to apply to get on to the building programme. The net effect of this is that it will ensure that the building programme could be clogged up.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Science said: “The priority for the department is to focus its capital allocation on major school projects and smaller projects devolved to schools to meet the demographic demands. In such circumstances, it is unlikely that there will be funding available for the minor works in the coming years.”

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