A former school building in Portlaoise is set to be refurbished to accommodate the rapid growth in numbers at a new non-denominational secondary school which has an Irish language dimension.
The recommissioning of the former St Mary's CBS secondary school at Tower Hill was confirmed in a statement issued by the Laois Offaly Education and Training Board (LOETB) which is the managing body for Dunamase College.
The LOETB says that due to the growth in student numbers at the College planning has commenced to make the Further Education and Training Centre across the road at Tower Hill part of the school facilities from September 2020 to meet the demand for places.
This will see a refurbishment of the old CBS buildings to meet current post-primary standards with additional specialist rooms for science, technology, and home economics.
First year enrolment for September 2019 is 102 with 185 students currently enrolled. The projected school enrolment September 2020 is expected to be 320.
Principal Aoife Elster said this would give certainty to those applying to enrol at Dunamase College that the necessary accommodation will be in place.
“We have a fantastic building at Railway Street that is now full to capacity and we need additional accommodation to cater for the demand until such time as the permanent building for the school on the Timahoe Road is developed.
"The fact that we will now be able to provide this accommodation in a building that has a long history of use for second-level provision is great news for the school,” she said.
“Our emphasis on science, technology, and the arts means that there is a strong interest in enrolling at Dunamase College.
"The planned expansion to Tower Hill will give certainty to the school community that we can now meet that demand in the short-term in advance of our move to the Timahoe road,” she said.
The LOETB said huge numbers of prospective students and their parents attended the recent open evening at the school with many parents enquiring how the school would cater for increasing enrolment.
LOETB confirmed that work has already started to ensure that refurbishment of the facilities at Tower Hill will be completed in time for the new school year.
It said options for expansion were limited given the location and site restrictions at Railway Street and the proximity of the facilities at Tower Hill to the existing school building was a critical factor in making the decision.
Chief Executive, Joe Cunningham, said that all the programmes and services currently being provided at Tower Hill will continue to be provided in Portlaoise.
“There has been strong growth in our Further Education and Training provision in Portlaoise in recent years and we are actively pursuing a number of options to ensure that the necessary facilities to maintain that provision in Portlaoise are in place for September 2020,” he said.
He said LOETB has a long-term lease on the buildings at Tower Hill so no extension/alteration required.
"We are currently determining the schedule of accommodation required to meet the projected enrolment and what consequential refurbishment will be required so no estimate on costs is available at present. We would have carried out significant refurbishment of the buildings and hall previously so the main focus now will be on specialist rooms such as science, technology, and home economics," he said.
A commitment is already in place to build a new home for the school off the town's Timahoe Road. The LOETB said that following consultation with Laois County Council, it is planned to have access both from the Timahoe road and from the roundabout at the school campus that is home to Portlaoise Educate Together NS, Gaelscoil Phort Laoise, and Maryborough NS primary schools.
The building currently used by Dunamase College was previously the Portlaoise Technical School which went on to be the Portlaoise College. It moved to a new building on the Mountrath Road in 2007 while St Mary's CBS moved to a new building in 2011 off the town's Borris Road.
The LOETB said a key feature of the development for Dunamase College will be a dedicated ‘park and stride’ facility that will allow parents of students attending all schools in the area to drop off and collect their children in a safe manner and allow students walk to and from their destination school.
Dunamase College is a post-primary school in Portlaoise under the patronage of LOETB. The school opened in September 2017 and one hundred and ten students this September. The school also has an Aonad Lán-Gaeilge which allows students to study all curricular subjects as Gaeilge.