Department of Education plans to purchase replacement prefabs at Kilmacthomas Primary School instead of sanctioning a long-sought permanent extension was recently raised at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee by Waterford Fine Gael TD John Deasy.
Taking the opportunity to question the Department’s Secretary General on accommodation budgets, Mr Seán Ó Foghlú, Deputy Deasy argued it would be nonsensical and extremely short-sighted to spend €160,000 on prefabs rather than meet the €200,000 cost of the two fully-integrated, bricks-and-mortar classrooms the school has been seeking since 2004.
That was the year the school received the existing prefabs for rent. Already second-hand when they arrived, needless to say, they’re now long past their best-before date. Indeed, the money spent renting them since would almost pay for a new concrete extension in itself. The lifespan of a permanent structure is 40 years-plus. The school in Kilmacthomas, with five permanent classrooms, was originally constructed in 1972.
Pointing to Government policy to phase out prefabs, Mr Deasy explained to the committee: “The school needs an extension and the Department insisted that it get quotes for the cost of buying two replacement prefabs. Based on the preferred tender just received, buying the two prefabs and connecting them to the school’s heating system would cost €160,000, which is approximately 80% of the cost of a new build.”
Noting that “the architect involved has said that the provision of two prefabs does not represent value for money in the medium or long term,” Mr Deasy added: “Prefabs have a book life of approximately 10 years even though many of us have been in prefabs that are 20 or 25 years old and still in use. I thought the Department had changed its policy direction on the issue. It might be preferable to give the school the €160,000 and let it raise additional money locally,” he submitted.
Mr Deasy added that “Kilmacthomas is a clear example of the cost-benefit question” being asked across Government department given current budget constraints. “I want Mr. Ó Foghlú to respond specifically to the example I have raised and consider the option of building permanent classrooms in Kilmacthomas as opposed to providing new prefabs [in] a school that does not want to face the prospect of having prefabs for another 15 or 20 years.”
In reply, the Secretary General said: “In simple terms, what Deputy Deasy has outlined is inconsistent with the approach. We do not know the underlying reason. We will have to look at the issue in question. Our policy is quite clear. We provide grant aid to allow for permanent build at a rate of €100,000 per classroom in primary schools. I do not understand the reason for the issue the Deputy raises. We will have to look at the papers. There may be a particular reason in this case. We will have to check and revert to the Deputy.”
“I want Mr. Ó Foghlú to respond specifically to the example I have raised and consider the option of building permanent classrooms in Kilmacthomas as opposed to providing new prefabs [in] a school that does not want to face the prospect of having prefabs for another 15 or 20 years.”
Asking the Secretary General “to have his departmental officials examine this specific case, Mr Deasy said: “It seems contrary to the direction I thought the Government was going in… Mr. Ó Foghlú might concede that there may be a problem which needs to be revisited.”
The Secretary General responded: “It is not a question of the figures but of whether the Department agrees that a primary school needs two extra classrooms. I wish to check on the rationale for why we would not grant €200,000 to allow a school to go in that direction. There may be other circumstances involved,” he said.
But Deputy Deasy believes that “by any criteria, the case for a permanent extension is conclusive.” In fact, as far back as January 2006 the Department approved the school’s application for an extension, four years after an amalgamation of the local Boys National School and the Convent Primary School on the latter’s site.
Despite this, last September Deputy Deasy was informed by Minister Ruairí Quinn that the project “is at an early stage of architectural planning.” He was also told that the project was not included in the five-year building programme due to enrolments at the school remaining unchanged over the last decade (preference being given to areas of increasing population).
Meanwhile, 34 children and staff continue to attend and teach classes in substandard accommodation.