Delay in St Thomas work frustrates

by Ian Begley
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A GROWING number of parents are expressing their frustration over the lengthy period of time it is taking the Department of Education to build an extension for St Thomas’ Junior National School, Esker.

The extension, originally approved in 2001, was later reapproved in 2007 when the department provided two additional temporary classrooms.

During the waiting period for the extension, many children in St Thomas’ had to attend class in prefabs, causing angst among parents.

Claudia Gelling, a parent whose son attends the school, says she is very annoyed over the prolonged extension process and the prefab arrangements in the school.

Speaking to The Gazette, she said: “My son only started at St Thomas’ this year and we actually couldn’t believe the stuff that’s going on – it’s crazy that there are children still in prefabs.

“People are enraged. One woman said to me that her daughter was in one of the prefabs sitting beside the window, which has a bit of a draught. When it gets cold, all the teachers can say is: ‘Everybody put on your coat’.

“People are getting really ticked off when they see schools who are well down on the list to St Thomas’ getting the funding for whatever works they need,” said Gelling.

Fianna Fail’s local area representative Caitriona McClean voiced deep concern at the extension criteria used by the Department of Education, saying: “I have been contacted by parents of pupils in St Thomas’ who have expressed their frustration at the criteria and the lack of transparency used by the Department of Education in deciding which schools are chosen for funding.

“I fully support the parents’ calls for a more efficient and transparent process. The parents and pupils of St Thomas’ deserve better from Minister [for Education Ruairi] Quinn.”

Michael Maher, the principal of St Thomas’ also expressed his frustration at the lack of progress.

He said: ‘We are still moving very slowly through the planning process and are currently on Stage 2A and moving to Stage 2B without any great urgency.

“We still have no funding commitment from the department to build an extension that was originally approved in 2001, and reapproved in 2007 when the department provided two additional temporary classrooms.

“We have 520 pupils occupying yards and halls designed for 450 pupils, and 41 staff utilising staff facilities designed for 18.

“It appears that the long-awaited extension of an established and inclusive Catholic school which provides for all the families in its local catchment is not part of the Minister’s current agenda.
We need our extension now so that we can continue to serve our community, as we have done over the past 37 years,”  said Maher.

In response to the development process of the extension for St Thomas’, a representative from the Department of Education said: “The major building project for [the junior national school] in Esker is currently at an early stage of architectural planning.  The design team are currently working on Stage 2A – developed sketch design.

“Due to competing demands on the department’s capital budget, imposed by the need to prioritise the limited funding available for the provision of additional school accommodation to meet increasing demographic requirements, it was not possible to include this project in the [department’s] five-year plan announced in 2012.

“Details of the building projects that are projected to commence construction in 2014 will be announced later this year.

“School building projects, including the project for St Thomas’, which have not been included in the five-year construction programme, but which were previously initiated, will continue to be progressed to final planning stages in anticipation of the possibility of further funds being available to the department in the future,” said the representative.

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