Site cleared for new Portlaoise ‘rapid’ schools

CLEARANCE and preparatory work has got underway at the Downs, Portlaoise on the 9.7 acres site where three new primary schools will be constructed and ready for pupils in September 2013.

CLEARANCE and preparatory work has got underway at the Downs, Portlaoise on the 9.7 acres site where three new primary schools will be constructed and ready for pupils in September 2013.

A Department of Education & Skills (DoES) spokesperson confirmed to the Leinster Express that: “The contract for Portlaoise is due to be awarded shortly with a view to completion of the project in advance of the new school year commencing September 2013.”

The ambitious multi-million euro project, part of the DoES Rapid Delivery programme, involves the construction of new buildings for three existing schools - Gaelscoil Phortlaoise, Portlaoise Educate Together NS and Maryborough NS.

The combined capacity of the ‘rapid’ schools is 1,080 pupils.

Planning permission was lodged on August 2 and no submissions or objections were received in relation to the ‘rapid’ project within the statutory timeframe (by Thursday, September 27) from members of the general public.

On Monday, October 15, Laois County Manager Peter Carey presented councillors with a Part VIII planning report which was adopted, thereby paving the way for the project to proceed.

The new Gaelscoil Phortlaoise and Portlaoise Educate Together NS will be two storey sixteen classroom schools with capacity for 480 pupils and 48 staff. Both schools will be 2,600 square metres.

Meanwhile, Maryborough NS will be moving to a 820 metre square new single storey four classroom school with capacity for 120 pupils and 12 staff.

There is a potential Phase 2 to this project, consisting of an eight classroom extension to both Gaelscoil Phortlaoise and Portlaoise Educate Together NS each catering for 240 pupils and 24 staff.

However, if a Phase 2 is sought, a separate planning application would be required. If this phase were to proceed then the maximum enrolment would rise from 1,080 pupils to 1,560.

Less than a kilometre away from the Downs site, Portlaoise Parish applied for planning permission on August 27 last for a proposed development at Aghnaharna that will see three existing primary schools – Sacred Heart, Scoil Mhuire and St Paul’s – amalgamate into two new thirty-two classroom schools with a combined capacity of 1,920 pupils.

Laois County Council planners expressed serious reservations with respect to overall access and high traffic volumes at the Aghnaharna site and further information was sought from Portlaoise Parish on October 11.

They’ve requested that a Stage 2 Road Safety Audit (RSA) be conducted and that the design of the proposed development should be revised to include the recommendations of the RSA.

The applicants are warned, “The RSA will not be deemed complete until all mitigation works as identified by the audit have been included in the design of the development.”

A Traffic Impact Assessment, commissioned by the DoES and as previously highlighted in the Leinster Express, in relation to their ‘rapid’ project identified the need to upgrade at least one major road junction and this increases to three major junctions when the parish project is also factored into the equation.

A DoES spokesperson confirmed that: “The Department has consulted with Laois County Council in relation to various planning requirements including traffic management issues.”

The spokesperson previously told the Leinster Express that the project for Portlaoise Parish amalgamation is on the “five year construction programme, to commence construction in 2013.”

Meanwhile, the largest primary school in Portlaoise, Scoil Bhride, Knockmay, has almost 700 pupils enrolled and while it was granted planning permission for a new 32 classroom school, it is unlikely to proceed until 2014/’15.