01 Dec 2021

Kolbe Special School plans unveiled for 'fantastic' new building

Kolbe Special School plans unveiled for 'fantastic' new building

Principal Orlagh Mahon and teachers Kate Steed and Yvonne Hennessy viewing the planned new Kolbe school building.

'Fantastic' designs for a purpose built school for Laois children with severe disabilities have been unveiled today to the public.

After 20 years of waiting and asking, Kolbe Special School in Portlaoise is on track to get a stunning new building that will properly support the needs of its very special pupils. 

The plans for the 2,265 m2 single storey school were on show at the school on the Block Road this Tuesday June 1, ahead of the Department of Education seeking planning permission from Laois County Council.

The spacious new building will still have eight classrooms, but a myriad of special rooms and facilities, including a hydrotherapy pool room, a library, a soft play room, a big GP room, occupational therapy room, multi sensory room, daily living skills room, home economics room, a parents meeting room, three medical rooms, storage space for the multiple equipment needed by the children.

It will be big enough for 48 pupils and will be on HSE owned land between the present school and the Cuisle Centre, with the build funded by the Department of Education.

Photo: Lynda Kiernan

Principal Orlagh Mahon and her staff were on hand to explain the plans, and she shared their joy at getting to this stage. 

"It's fantastic, it's wonderful. I am here 21 years and 20 years ago we put into the department what rooms we needed, and it is finally coming to fruition, they are delivering. The whole school will be accessible by every pupil, it's inclusive, it's functional. The layout is fantastic. Their overall education, wellbeing, emotional, physical and intellectual development, this school will deliver it for them," she said.

Teacher Yvonne Hennessy is most excited about the outdoor amenities planned.

"There will be a geodome greenhouse, raised beds for gardening, outdoor gym equipment, a basketball court, a sensory garden, a trail for them to walk around, all safely enclosed. We will be bringing over our equipment from our playground that people fundraised to buy. Then in the main central courtyard there will be safety surfaces and a storytelling bench and water feature. Each classroom will have their own play area too. I am just really really excited," she said.

The current school uses 80% prefabs, with no space for even one sensory room, and no space for PE for the past five years as numbers grew to the current 42 children and almost 40 staff. 

"It was impossible to have parents in for events for the past five years. The space will be the biggest change, some of the rooms will be three times the size they are now," the principal said.

Teacher Kate Steed said the new building will make a world of difference.

"It is the recognition that at last our children have their chance that every other school in the parish has. It will be everything they deserve, it's fit for purpose. To be honest I'll just be glad to have a classroom that doesn't leak. It will also be for the welfare of our staff," she said.

Viewing the plans were Maureen and Denis O'Leary (below with Orlagh Mahon) who live across the road.

"We are very impressed and looking forward to seeing it happen as soon as possible. We moved here a year before this school was first built. They will get a nice new building and it's well deserved," the couple said.

Mary Ruddy is manager with the Cuisle Centre for cancer care, beside the site.

"It's brilliant, it's great to see it happen and we really welcome it. Some of the children come to use our gardens at the minute and they love things like the water feature," she said.

Niall Kavanagh is chairperson of the Cuisle Cancer Support Centre and also welcomes the plans.

"It will be a huge improvement for the children and staff and a great facility for the area," he said.  

As to when the new doors will open, Orlagh Mahon is hopeful.

"They plan it to be September 2024 and we are very hopeful. After the planning approval they will tender for the job and we hope that construction will start by the end of this year or early next year," she said.

She described how much more difficult Covid has made life for them and their pupils and families.

"It has been a very difficult year especially for parents as we had to close when other schools closed, and there was no respite care, no services. We would be used to gowning up and using hand sanitiser anyway but we had to turn a room into a second staff room as staff had to stay separate in pods. That made things difficult especially if help was needed in another classroom. It has been a tough time for everybody. It's all the nicer to see this now. It's badly needed," she said.

Below: the existing school. Photo: Lynda Kiernan

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