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Appoint a design team to Kolbe now – ‘I will be back to the Minister every month about this’

Kolbe Special School

A Laois TD has raised the need to urgently appoint a design team for a new Kolbe Special School in Portlaoise.

Laois TD Sean Fleming raised the issue with the new Minister for Education, Joe McHugh T.D. in a special Dáil debate on Wednesday October 24, 2018.

Deputy Fleming said that he will raise this matter on a monthly basis with the Minister to ensure this much needed special schools project is progressed a quickly as possible.

The Laois TD spoke about the ‘extraordinary’ school Kolbe is.

“When we talk about a special school, we all have ideas about what they entail. There are many special schools throughout the country.

Kolbe Special School has 40 students under the age of 18 who have severe and profound intellectual disabilities.

“This makes the school an outlier by comparison with normal schools in terms of the difficulties the students encounter,” said the Fianna Fáil TD.

“People, even locals in County Laois, do not understand that each student has a profound intellectual disability and a severe learning difficulty and that all the children are non-verbal. Practically the majority are in wheelchairs and are completely wheelchair bound.

“The school has been pleading for a new school building for the past 15 years. I want the Minister to give approval to appoint a design team. That is precisely where we need to be. The school is on a building list.

“The construction might happen sometime but unless there is a design team, nothing will happen. This is the critical next step that needs to be taken. The site has been identified.

‘There has not been a dicky bird since’

“It is in HSE ownership and is adjacent to the current school but we need the design team. The accommodation schedule was discussed among the departmental officials in Tullamore and the board of management some time ago, in March 2017,

“There has not been a dicky bird since. Therefore, we need to move on to the appointment of a design team so further progress can be made.

He also compared the services other schools in Portlaoise receive compared to Kolbe.

“The students in question are the most disadvantaged in the entire region. Kolbe school is the only school in the town that has not had a new school building in the past ten or 15 years. Every other school in the town has benefited,” added Mr Fleming.

“By comparison with any other town, Portlaoise has the most modern suite of primary and secondary schools. Despite this, the Department is neglecting the children who are most vulnerable and most in need. Therefore, we need a design team to be appointed.”

Minister McHugh thanked Deputy Flanagan for his expression of interest, saying: “I will obviously take a very special interest in the issue raised. These are important matters in terms of educational inclusion.”

“As the Deputy is aware, a building project, which involves the construction of a replacement school building for Kolbe Special School, is included in my Department’s six-year construction programme.

The building project

Minister McHugh went on to state that the school building project, which will comprise a single-storey building of 2,265 square metres –  will provide a schedule of accommodation.

This accommodation is set to include eight classrooms, a general purpose room, a library and resource area, a woodwork and art room, an exercise-therapy room and various ancillary spaces.

The schedule of accommodation for the new school was developed in consultation with the National Council for Special Education.

“To facilitate the development of the proposed new school, my Department has acquired a 1.433 ha site from the Health Service Executive at St. Fintan’s, Portlaoise, County Laois, for the project.

“My Department is currently finalising the development of the project brief with a view to progressing the project into architectural planning at an early stage. My Department gave approval to Kolbe Special School in late February 2018 for the provision of a temporary classroom to meet the growing current needs at the school,” said Minister McHugh.

Sean Fleming replied saying, “I will be back to the Minister every month about this issue. I ask him to get the work started. Even when it is started, it will have to go through the planning and tendering processes. Therefore, it is still a long way off. I ask the Minister to allow the school to proceed to architectural planning as quickly as possible.

He also spoke about five of the seven classrooms in the school now being prefabs, serving children with the most profound intellectual and physical disabilities.

“The school site is extraordinary in that the HSE owns the site, the Muiriosa Foundation owns the school buildings and the Department owns the five prefabs on the site, so it is a complete mixum-gatherum. Nevertheless, the Department must take ownership of this project.

These 40 children are being left in limbo in the meantime and I urge the Minister to move on this. I am not here to fight but to plead on behalf of those children, their parents and the staff,” concluded Deputy Flanagan.

SEE ALSO – Castletown man receives Laois Carer of the Year award

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Siún Lennon joined LaoisToday in a full-time capacity after studying Journalism and New Media in the University of Limerick. She hails from Rosenallis and her interests vary from news, sports and politics.