Laois Minister for State Sean Fleming has described the news surrounding Kolbe Special School as ‘a serious set back’ but he is certain the project will still proceed.
The Laois TD was reacting to correspondence which the school received yesterday on the situation surrounding their proposed new school.
There is devastation in the Kolbe Special School community, with an update from the Department of Education stating that the development of a new building has been ‘put on hold’.
Planning permission was granted by Laois County Council in February of last year for a new school beside their existing building on the Block Road in Portlaoise.
Permission has been approved for eight general classrooms, a GP hall, specialist educational spaces, administration areas, circulation areas and mini bus drop-off spaces and all necessary external play, sports and educational areas.
However, communication from the Department of Education says that 58 school projects, including Kolbe, are on hold ahead of going to tender.
Deputy Fleming says he has spoken with the Principal of Kolbe Special School and the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, in connection with the recent information from the Department regarding the school.
He said: “I acknowledge that while the process for this project going to tender is “on hold” there is significant good news in relation to works on this project progressing quickly.
“The school was informed last Friday that enabling works to be carried out by the ESB to divert electricity cables at the site can proceed straight away.
“I am in contact with the ESB for a timescale for them to complete their works. It has always been the case that until the ESB divert the cables that no works could commence on the site until their work is completed. This is the next stage in this project, and this is cleared to go ahead.
“This school is an absolute priority for me to ensure a new school gets built on the site adjacent to the existing school in Portlaoise.
“I am fully committed and adamant that this will happen. This new school project will proceed despite this delay.
“The school received an e-mail on Monday, 6th March from the Planning and Building Unit in the Department of Education saying, “Currently there are 58 school building projects, including the major project for Kolbe Special School, on hold for proceeding to tender due to capital funding pressures”.
“This is a serious set-back and I am seeking clarity as to when this project which is now “on hold” can proceed to tender and construction stage.
“I received information from the Minister on 21st February 2023 regarding progress on Kolbe Special School as I have been in constant contact with the Department on this matter.
“The Minister in her recent information to me stated that “An Enabling Works to divert electricity cables at the site for the new school will need to be carried out in advance of the building works for the Major Project.
“The Project Manager and Design Team are in consultation with the Local Authority and the ESB with regards to this.
“I fully understand that the pupils in Kolbe Special School are the most vulnerable in our society as they have severe and profound disabilities and special needs.
“I believe we should do everything possible to provide the best facilities for the pupils to spend their childhood and adolescent years as urgently as possible.
“A new Kolbe Special School is my top priority. This will happen despite this delay.”
Meanwhile, a petition to have the new school built without delay has been launched and can be signed here.