Louth County Council say they are awaiting approval from the Department of Education to bring the new Ardee Educate Together school on the Kells Road in Ardee to tender but there is some way to go yet before work gets started in earnest on building the new school.
Stage 2B design was completed last year and contract documents were issued to the Department for approval late last year. When that arrives, the project can go to tender where contractors can bid for the work.
Louth County Council have not outlined a timeframe for when building can start.
Two years ago, people attached to the project were of the belief that the pupils could be in their new school building at some stage during the 2019/20 academic year. Now, it is unlikely a brick will not be laid before then.
It is a major delay for staff, pupils and parents of Ardee Educate Together who work every day in cramped conditions in their tiny building on the Dundalk Road in the town.
When Ardee Educate Together finally move to their long-awaited new school, they will be packing up and moving to a site a startling 17 times the size of their current location. While their current location could be described as quaint, cosy and close-knit – the reality is the school has far outgrown their current building.
The 151 pupils in the multi-denominational, all-faith school are currently operating out of just one in-building classroom and a number of prefab units, some of which have been in use since the school first opened 18 years ago.
The current school building was first built in the 1800s.
Plans for the brand new €5 million Ardee Educate Together school on the Kells Road were passed by councillors at the Ardee Municipal District meeting held in April 2018, after Louth County Council Chief Executive Joan Martin had
deemed in accordance with the Ardee Local Area Plan and ready to be put to councillors.
At that point, the council had already conducted a preliminary study, in which no obstacles to progress was found. By the Part 8 planning stage, only one submission was lodged in relation to the application – by the Dept of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – citing the proximity of national monuments and recommending an Archaeological Impact Assessment.
While is was thought of as surprising that just one submission was lodged in relation to the build, perhaps reflective of the support locally for it’s progress and the appreciation of its necessity, it is issues relative to that submission which have seen delays.
In response to a parliamentary question asked by Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd last September, it emerged that ‘significant archaeological finds’ were recorded in and around the vicinity of the site.
The project was described as a ‘challenging project to plan’.
Fire Safety Certificates and Disabled Access Certificates were received in late 2018, and a preliminary Health and Safety Plan was completed in late April.
The Department of Education also said there is ‘also a need to carefully plan and design the site’s road access from the N52,’ saying this prolonged the planning process.
However, planning permission was granted in 2018 and progress has been slow ever since.
The Department of Education approved plans for a new school building as far back as 2012. In 2018 with 144 pupils on site, seven more than in 2017, the children were spread out amongst five mainstream classes and two autism classes. All but around 20 pupils were being taught in prefabs, which have been added as the need has arisen over the years.
Those prefabs are becoming more crowded with each passing year as the local demand for places in the Educate Together school intensifies.
The necessity for using prefabs has increased steadily in the last 18 years. The school first opened in 2002, with just 23 pupils and two teachers. In celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2012, it had six teachers. In 2018, it had 11 and despite having reached a quota for a new teacher, they were restricted from adding another due to their compact location.
It was felt in 2018 that the school reaching capacity and the new building being ready would occur concurrently, meaning a crisis in terms of spaces for children. At that point, no new enrolments were turned away.
Council planners have previously spoken about the increase in traffic volume the new school building would have on the already busy Kells Road but concerns were assuaged by the progress, at that time, of the N52 Ardee Bypass. However, that has not progressed to build stage.
Ardee Municipal District cathaoirleach Dolores Minogue told LouthNow.ie that she and Deputy O’Dowd would “continue to work on helping to deliver this much needed school for the students and parents of Ardee Educate Together.”