A school for children with learning disabilities that was left last on the list for a new building in Portlaoise, is finally seeing the start of progress, warmly welcomed by parents.
St Francis school in Portlaoise has 94 pupils aged 5 to 20 from all over Laois and beyond, who have extra learning and physical needs. Their school is a small flat roofed, poorly insulated building on the Timahoe road that is forty years old and beyond restoration.
Following years of campaigning by parents, planning permission is now being sought by the Minister for Education Richard Bruton, to Laois County Council, for a new two storey 12 classroom special needs school.
Permission is also being sought for the demolition of another parish school that will soon be vacant, St Paul's School on the Borris road, offered by Portlaoise Parish to house St Francis School. The new school will be built in its place, with ample outdoor space for play and for safe traffic and pedestrian access, both of which were lacking at the old premises.
The announcement in this week's Irish Independent has been welcomed by Michael Gorman, Chairman of St Francis Special School New Building Sub-Committee.
"This is exactly what our committee and our parent body have been fighting for, a brand new, state of the art special school, where our children will be treated with the same dignity and respect as those in the mainstream of society," he said.
"Our sub-committee would now urge all parties involved to do everything in their power to fast track this whole process so that these vulnerable children do not have to spend more than one more winter in their current location which has long since been past fit for purpose," he said.
The group are confident that the new principal Malachy McNulty will "keep the pressure on".
"Mr McNulty has brought a new impetus and sense of urgency to the process and we are confident that he will keep the pressure on to get this new State of the Art Special School built and occupied by his students and their wonderful teaching staff as soon as is reasonably practicable," Mr Gorman said.
Mr McNulty has stated hopes to the Leinster Express of a new school "in the next two to three years".