29 May 2022

'Urgent need' for more spaces - principal of new Laois special needs school

'Urgent need' for more spaces - principal of new Laois special needs school

The keys to St Francis School handover by Marc Cunningham Department of Education to the School board and Principal John Moran.

Top quality conditions at a new Laois special needs school attracted more children than it could comfortably fit, before it even opened.

The principal of St Francis Special School in Portlaoise has confirmed the jump in pupil numbers that forced the urgent requirement of a new extension.

"We had 89 Pupils when we moved into our new school last summer. The enrolment for last September had increased to 121. 

"This represents an increase of 32 pupils. These additional students are being accommodated within our current building until we have secured additional accommodation to meet with this increased demand," Mr Moran told the Leinster Express.

He welcomes the approval this week by the Department of Education for four new classrooms, as much as the site on the Borris Road can take.

"I welcome the announcement by the Department of a major extension to our school building to encompass four additional classrooms. We are grateful to the Department for the delivery of our new school with its modern facilities. Our new school has been greeted with positivity and excitement and has attracted positive media reports and widespread praise.

"It was clear from the level of demand for enrolment last summer, that an urgent need for additional accommodation was required. We responded with a formal application for accommodation last May following on from contacts with the Department in March of 2021. This was followed by a series of solution focused meetings with representatives of the school, the Department of Education, and the National Council for Special Education.

"The granting of four additional classroom to St. Francis School represents a positive outcome to these discussions. We look forward to working with the Department’s Building Section to commence the urgently required accommodation at our school. The investment in Special Needs accommodation for our school is critical to us being able to sustain our current enrolment levels.

"We are particularly pleased that this project is to be fast tracked," the principal said.

The new 12 classroom building opened in June 2021, described as being "like a five star hotel" by the chair of the board of management Fr Paddy Byrne. It was first promised to be ready in September 2018 as a Rapid Build project by the Department of Education but was hit with multiple project delays.  

The old school was a cramped poorly insulated prefab style building on the Timahoe Road. Parents campaigned hard for the new school. Its patrons Portlaoise Parish gave the site for the new school, which was previously the home of St Paul's NS.

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