06 Jul 2022

'No deficits' in 2019 - now Abbeyleix school to be a test case for retrofit

Department wants to take 'learnings' from Scoil Mhuire project

scoil mhuire

Scoil Mhuire Abbeyleix principal Aidan McEvoy with pupils in one of the classrooms which had to be decommissioned for months due to a hole in the roof. Temporary repairs have since been carried out.

No problems were found at an Abbeyleix school which wreaked with sewage and where leaking roof which caused classrooms to be decommissioned according to Department of Education which has now decided on an upgrade which it wants to take 'learning' from for a national scheme.

The Department has now decided that Scoil Mhuire National School will be a test case a national retrofit programme that may be rolled out to schools built before 2008 if projects like Abbeyleix are deemed to be a sucess.

That is what has emerged in an a reply from the Minister for Education Norma Foley to a Dáil question about the status of the almost condemned school that has had to be patched up by management to keep it open.

Laois Offaly TD Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Education in September 2021 to detail of the current assessment of a the school by her Department and if her Department would now sanction a new school building.

In her written reply, she said that an Additional Schools Accommodation (ASA) application and First Level Education (FLE) application were assessed in 2019.

"At that time, there was no deficit of accommodation identified. The school was advised that if their enrolments increase in the future, it was open to the school authority to make a further application," she said.

The 20019 assesment was made in the same year as classrooms had to be vacated due to leaking ceilings. Shortcomings with the school were raised publicly at an INTO meeting in early 2020. Parents highlighted extensive failings and an engineers report which found that the building was not fit for purpose.

In her latest reply, Minister Foley, who met parents and staff in 2021, said that Department has had a change of mind.

"The school has since been identified as a possible candidate for the Energy Pathfinder Programme to undergo extensive fabric upgrades to improve the energy performance of the building and the installation of renewable energy solutions," she said.

Minister Foley explained what would be involved.

"As part of the 2022 Pathfinder programme, a number of schools will be chosen in rural and urban areas to undergo extensive fabric upgrades to improve the energy performance of the building and the installation of renewable energy solutions. Each school will be assessed comprehensively to ensure that the measures were suitable for that school and would deliver value to both the school and the pilot. Design teams will be appointed to each project, with medium to deep energy efficiency works delivered.

"This Pathfinder programme is paving the way for, and informing, a much larger national schools’ programme for the energy retrofit of schools built prior to 2008 as included in the National Development Plan. It is facilitating research on a range of typical retrofit options, which will have been tried and tested. It is providing valuable development information for a solution driven delivery strategy which will be founded on a solid evidence base that has proven the robustness and scalability of renewable solutions within the schools’ sector," she said.

The Minister also revealed to Dep Stanley that Scoil Mhuire would in effect be a guinea pig for the scheme.

"My Department has determined that a potential project at the school in question could be of benefit in identifying learnings that can be rolled out in the national programme," she said.

Minister Foley also revealed where officials were at in terms of advancing the project in Abbeyleix

"I can confirm that my Department's Professional and Technical staff visited the school recently and carried out a technical inspection. A report is currently being finalised and when this is completed, my Department’s officials will contact the school authority directly," she said.

Laois Offaly Government Ministers Seán Fleming and Pippa Hackett  alongside Government TD Charlie Flanagan have since confirmed that the retrofit option is being pursued over a new building.

Dep Stanley said he believes that it may not be enough to solve the problems.

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