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29 May 2022

New Laois school that cost millions of euro is too small

Department of Education gives the goahead for more building to the school that's less than a year old

Further delay on new Laois special school as children return to lessons

A new school building in Portlaoise, which was part of a €12 million contract, is set for more construction work after it emerged that the new building is too small to cope with the demand for places.

So Laois Offaly TD and Minister of State in the Department of Finance Sean Fleming has revealed in a statement in which he welcomed the green light for an extension to the St Francis Special School on the Borris Road. The school says it provides educational services for students with mild and moderate intellectual disabilities with co-occuring needs aged from 5 to 18 years.

Minister Fleming said that since last May he has been working with St Francis management, the Minister for Education Norma  Foley and her Departmental officials to get approval for this new four classroom extension for the school.

He said the school had been located on the Timahoe Road, Portlaoise where prefabs were used but were unfit for purpose. Minister Fleming claimed that many people had stopped enrolling their children due to the the reliance on prefabs and poor state. 

"This resulted in the normal level of enrolments that should have taken place over a number of years not occurring.  As a result, when an appropriate building became available the normal level of enrolment resumed which led to the need for additional classrooms," said the Fianna Fáil TD.

The latest Department of Education figures show that there were 87 children enrolled in 2021 but Minister Fleming says the real demand for places in the school emerged after the school relocated in summer 2021.

"Immediately it became obvious that this school was not big enough to cater for the demand and I commenced work with the school to seek an additional four new classrooms. It goes without saying that this was a surprise to the Department but I convinced them that the condition of the old school," he said.

The Minister of State said he visited the school and met with Department officials on numerous occasions and all eventually agreed that four new classrooms was the maximum that the new school site could take. 

"This has now been approved by the Department. This is great news for families in Laois who want their children to attend this new school.

"I look forward to the plans being drawn up and the completion of this project to be fast tracked as soon as possible and I am confident that this will  happen.

"Finally, I want to thank the Board of Management, the Principal and the staff and all involved in the school community for their work and dedication to the children in this school.  This will allow the enrolment of new students from this September who will be facilitated on a temporary basis in the current building until the new extension is completed," he said.

The new school was built on the site of a former boys national school in Portlaoise which was demolished to make way for St Francis. Funded by the Department of Education, the completion date was been pushed out several times. It was first promised to be ready in September 2018 as a Rapid Build project by the Department of Education. 

After construction work began Covid-19 intervened on a number of occasions.

The completed school was part of a €12.3 million contract awarded to MEIC along with Maynooth Educate Together NS. The Kildare was prioritised after the first lockdown ended in 2020. 

The two-storey 12-classroom building includes staff and pupil facilities and ancillary spaces, with a floor area of 2912m3, a new entrance, 44 space carpark and safe play areas. 

The old building on the Timahoe road was a single story structure. Parents had long campaigned for a replacement building for their children, many of whom have compromised immunity. 

Under the patronage of the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, the school opened in 1971 and had been located in the 'purpose built' building on the Timahoe Road since 1973. 

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