Classroom crisis

Two school classrooms in Portarlington have been condemned and closed off on health and safety grounds because they are literally sinking.

Two school classrooms in Portarlington have been condemned and closed off on health and safety grounds because they are literally sinking.

With the St Patrick’s Boys national school already packed to capacity, this latest problem has tipped it into crisis point, principal Pat Galvin told the Leinster Express this week.

Huge cracks have grown in two of four classrooms that were built just twelve years ago to the rear of the school, which borders the River Barrow. The rooms were built at a cost of 100,000 euros, but is appears now that the foundations were built on gravel and sand, and may need pile driven supports to stop them sinking and make them safe.

The principal showed the Leinster Express the extent of the problems this week. He partially removed a block from the buildings to show how much the classrooms have moved.

The classes were condemned by an engineer as unsafe for the children, but work to make them safe will have to wait until next summer at the earliest when the building is empty. It has left school management with no option but to move 56 sixth class students and their teachers to the nearby vacant old Presentation Primary School for the school year.

With pupil numbers estimated to soar to over 500 within the next seven years, this is the final straw for Mr Galvin, who sees a new purpose built school as the only practical solution to their woes.

“It’s coming to a crisis stage at the moment. The girls have a lovely new school, so obviously the boys need one too. It’s costing the department 50,000 euros per year to rent our three prefabs, and the cost of repairing the classes could be 150,000 euros. It’s a short term solution. You just have to look at the figures and the projected numbers, anyone with a brain could see we need a new school. Even if we use all the classrooms in the girls school, we’re still in trouble in three or four years time,” he said.

The school caters for 320 boys from first to sixth class, along with 17 teachers, two SNAs and the principal.

Three classroom prefabs and a resource room are also at the back of the school, along the “fault line”, and are being monitored but at the moment show no signs of subsidence.

The girls’ school was vacated two years ago when they moved to Station Road. The classrooms the boys are now using were fitted out over the summer with new carpets, interactive whiteboards and a fresh coat of paint.

“They have extra playing room, and it is clean, fresh and airy but it has social implications, they are detached from the main school. Logistically it’s difficult for staff, and for myself, managing one school on two different sites, especially if an emergency were to arise, I’ll be the fittest principal in Ireland,” said Mr Galvin.

Fr Thomas Dooley, PP and chair of the Board of Management of the school said the boys were happy with their new classrooms.

“It’s not an inconvenience for the boys. They have lots of room,” he said.

Fr Dooley and Mr Galvin are seeking an appointment with the Department of Education to discuss the problems.

“I hope this will fastrack us getting a new school. Ideally on a greenfield site of six or seven acres so we could have proper PE facilities, and a school to see boys for the next 100 years. We need to do it right, and do it now,” the principal said.

A new girls primary school opened on the Station Road in Port two years ago but pleas for the boys of Port to be looked after have so far been ignored.