Businesses and volunteers give St Gabriel's special school a new lease of life ahead of the new term

Businesses and volunteers give St Gabriel's special school a new lease of life ahead of the new term
Martin McAuliffe, managing director of Merck Ireland along with staff members and volunteers, making the presentation to school principal Margaret Lordan, at the handover following a major refurbishment project by Carrigtwohill based company Merck Ireland, at St Gabriel's special needs school in Bishopstown, Cork.Picture: David Keane.

IT’S a new lease of life for the new school year for the children of St Gabriel’s Special School in Bishopstown, who will start their first day back with a major revamp of their school building.

The school hit headlines in March after the Parents’ Association launched a €200,000 crowdfunding campaign for repairs and upgrades to St Gabriel’s, saying their children were being forced to endure substandard conditions. These included leaking roofs, toilets that were not wheelchair accessible and a sensory room in a windowless outbuilding.

Thanks to the work of over 110 volunteers, St Gabriel’s students will return on Monday to renovated indoor and outdoor sensory rooms, upgrades to their kitchen and nurse’s room, and a revamp of classrooms that includes colourful hand-painted murals.

A section of the sensory garden at St Gabriel's special needs school in Bishopstown, Cork, at the handover following a major refurbishment project by Carrigtwohill based company Merck Ireland.Picture: David Keane.
A section of the sensory garden at St Gabriel's special needs school in Bishopstown, Cork, at the handover following a major refurbishment project by Carrigtwohill based company Merck Ireland.Picture: David Keane.

St Gabriel’s is currently the only school in Cork that can enrol students with a dual diagnosis of ID and autism and it serves the needs of 43 students with severe to profound special needs.

Over the summer, parents raised more than €30,000 in donations for new equipment for the school.

Now, thanks to teams of volunteers from pharmaceutical company Merck Millipore and donations of time, expertise and equipment from 19 other companies including construction firms, kitchen fitters and specialist cleaners, the school is upgraded and ready for the school year.

Parents’ Association spokeswoman Sinéad Desmond said the make-over would have a significant impact on kids’ lives.

“We’re just thrilled,” she said. “It’s actually amazing to see that so many people dedicated so much time to this.”

One of the murals at St Gabriel's special needs school in Bishopstown, Cork,at the handover following a major refurbishment project by Carrigtwohill based company Merck Ireland.Picture: David Keane.
One of the murals at St Gabriel's special needs school in Bishopstown, Cork,at the handover following a major refurbishment project by Carrigtwohill based company Merck Ireland.Picture: David Keane.

She said parents would continue to fight for a dedicated new school for their children.

In May, the Department of Education confirmed that a site for a new school premises was being sought for St Gabriel’s but the process would take over two years.

Gabrielle Collins is a production planner and buyer at Merck Millipore in Carrigtwohill, and aunt to Dylan Egan, a student at the school.

“We were looking for a project where we could help in the community,” Ms Collins said. “I mentioned St Gabriel’s and the appalling conditions there and got full support.” As part of a corporate social responsibility programme, Merck paid a day’s wages to staff who volunteered to take part in the renovation.

Merck Ireland staff members and volunteers Marian Kelleher, Nickla Martin and Deborah Connolly, are all smiles at the handover following a major refurbishment project by Carrigtwohill based company Merck Ireland, at St Gabriel's special needs school in Bishopstown, Cork.Picture: David Keane.
Merck Ireland staff members and volunteers Marian Kelleher, Nickla Martin and Deborah Connolly, are all smiles at the handover following a major refurbishment project by Carrigtwohill based company Merck Ireland, at St Gabriel's special needs school in Bishopstown, Cork.Picture: David Keane.

Over three days, 110 volunteers came in to tackle jobs like painting, but Ms Collins said some of the companies offering expert time and labour worked over the course of two weeks to make drastic improvements to the school, offering their labour for free.

“Everyone did so much and put in so much effort, and the results are amazing,” she said. “This is going to be so enriching for the kids. It’s a real good news story.”

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