The Department of Education has confirmed that 58 school building projects due to go to tender or construction this year are on hold due to funding pressures.

High construction inflation has resulted in difficulties among contractors in standing over tendered costs for many planned school buildings.

The delays are likely to affect tens of thousands of students who, in many cases, have been in temporary accommodation or prefabs for years.

The development comes amid pressure at post-primary level, in particular, due to a population bulge and the need to find school places for Ukrainian students.

When asked how long projects will be place on hold for, a department spokeswoman said it will seek to “minimise project delays to the greatest extent possible”.

She said the departmwnt was “assessing its work programme and priorities in the context of its available funding” and engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure regarding the roll-out of school building projects due to go tender and construction this year.

“The Department of Education is very conscious of the need to support the operation of the school system and intends to provide clarity for individual schools about their school building projects as quickly as possible,” she said.

Educate Together, which operates more than 100 multi-denominational schools, expressed “serious concern” after being informed by the department that four building projects this week in the south Dublin area which had been due to get under way this year have been placed on hold.

The schools impacted by the delay in Dublin include a primary and secondary school at Harold’s Cross, a national school at Shellybanks in Dublin 4 and a secondary school in Sandymount Park in Dublin 4.

The Harold’s Cross and Sandymount schools are currently in temporary accommodation on their permanent sites.

They were opened to cater for growing population in their areas and Education Together said they will “simply run out of space” if construction does not commence as soon as possible.

Emer Nowlan, Educate Together’s chief executive, said: “We are very concerned about the impact this will have on schools that are already under considerable pressure. If this is a question of funding, then it is a false economy – any delays in construction will simply increase temporary accommodation costs, as well as limiting the development of these new schools. We are also concerned about the wider impact on the school building programme if these projects are delayed.

“We have been pleased to see some improvements in the school building programme in recent months, with the handover of five permanent buildings for Educate Together schools in the past year, and sites confirmed for a number of others. We were dismayed, however, to learn that several projects due to commence this year are now delayed.”

Educate Together said more than 40 of its schools are currently in temporary accommodation awaiting permanent buildings.

Paula Mulhall, principal of Sandymount Park Educate Together Secondary School, said the delay will have a negative impact on the development of the school.

“Sandymount Park ETSS is very successful, yet our growth is being hindered by our current accommodation and the facilities available to our students are not what they should be,” she said.

“We cannot offer the full range of practical subjects and whilst we can adjust for this in the short term, a protracted delay to the tender for the permanent build will disadvantage our students into the long term. We urge the Government to progress the school building programme and deliver on their responsibilities to our students.”

Department of Education officials told an Oireachtas committee earlier this year that it had a strong track record of delivery and the status of all projects was listed on the its website and updated on a monthly basis.

During the period 2018 to 2022, nearly 900 school building projects were completed.

However, officials said the past year has been a “difficult” construction environment in which to work due to construction inflation and supply chain issues linked to the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and “challenging market conditions”.

Officials said there were difficulties with tenderers not holding their prices, which obliged the department to refresh tenders or tender again.

Notwithstanding this, officials said they had been able to keep a “strong flow” of projects at construction and bring them to completion. A total of €860 million has been allocated this year for the delivery of school building projects.

Under the Project Ireland 2040 initiative, it plans to invest €4.4 billion over the period 2021 to 2025 to add capacity and upgrade school facilities across the country for the almost one million students and over 100,000 staff.

Many schools, in the meantime, are reliant on temporary accommodation. An ESRI study published in 2021 identified negative impacts for students and school leaders of prolonged periods in prefabs.

Source: The Irish Post