05/08/2010

Building Bonanza For NI Schools

There was good news on two fronts today with both the educational and the construction sectors being boosted.

Numerous school building projects that had originally been delayed due to a lack of funding have now been given the green light, while - in a separate development - the final obstacle to advance plans to build a new Enniskillen Model Primary School has also been removed.

However, the main news is that some 14 schools that are in urgent need of new buildings are now able to actually begin their projects in this financial year.

Stormont Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane, revealed the list of schools that will benefit from a £13m windfall.

She said that the biggest projects to get formal approval are Strathearn Grammar in east Belfast and Bangor Grammar.

In addition, 11 primary schools have been told they have clearance to go ahead with their building plans.

The Minister has said she has also found £10m to tackle the backlog of maintenance work for schools in Northern Ireland.

Ms Ruane said she had put forward a "strong case for greater investment in the schools estate" and welcomed the additional funding.

"Potentially, it could see major progress being made on 14 schools projects and minor works carried out in many other schools," she added.

"To ensure we can spend this money before the end of the financial year we have identified projects which are well advanced in terms of financial, planning and tendering processes.

"We need to make rapid progress to realise the full potential of this allocation and are working closely with the schools and managing authorities to resolve outstanding issues."

The total cost of building all the schools in Thursday's announcement is £65m with £13m found from other departments' surpluses.

It will only start them off so that the remainder of the money will have to be found in future financial years.

The schools that will benefit from the funding are widespread. They are Carrick Primary School, Warrenpoint; Corranny and Cornagague, Roslea; Dromintee, Newry; St Columba's PS, Draperstown; St Oliver Plunkett PS, Forkhill; St Colman's, Lisburn; St Joseph's, Madden, Armagh; Magherafelt Nursery Unit and St Marys, Newcastle.

Also getting started are Scoil Na Fuiseoige, Belfast; Taughmonagh, Belfast, Strathearn Grammar, Belfast, Colaiste Feirste, Belfast and Bangor Grammar.

The other school getting good news was Enniskillen Model Primary School, in Co Fermanagh.

While on a visit to the site, NI Environment Minister Edwin Poots announced that he decided not to 'list' the existing building on the basis of its architectural importance.

The building project would have been stymied had the grey concrete structure been 'listed' as originally suggested, as it could not have been demolished to make way for the new school.

Plans to build the new Model school can now proceed to the next stage as soon as possible, although it is not yet known what the timeframe is for the main construction work to begin.

(BMcC/GK)

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