The Department of Education is being urged to provide a long-term solution regarding the future plans for St Gabriel’s Special School in Bishopstown.
The call was made by two Cork TDs in the Dáil.
St Gabriel’s was originally built as a primary school in 1981 and opened as a special school in 1998.
In 2018, the Department of Education committed to the construction of a purpose-built facility for the children of St Gabriel’s Special School.
No progress has been made since which has led to growing concerns.
Sinn Féin spokesperson for education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, said St Gabriel’s does ‘incredible work’.
“There are 43 children attending the school, from the ages of four to 18, with severe to profound learning disabilities. The school plays an incredibly important role in Cork city and the surrounding areas,” he said.
The Cork TD however said that current facilities are ‘unsuitable’.
“The current building is completely unsuitable. The staff, management and parents of St Gabriel’s have done incredible work in making the most they can out of the building, but the reality is that it is long past its sell-by date. Ultimately, the current building is never going to be fully fit for purpose.
“I have received previous replies from the minister, on measures being implemented to meet interim accommodation needs. That is positive, but it is not a long-term solution. The long-term solution is a new building, on a new site,” he added.
Mr Ó Laoghaire said he wants a firm ‘commitment’ from the minister that there will be a new building for St Gabriel’s.
“I want the minister to give a commitment that there will be a new building for St Gabriel’s, that is fit for purpose for the needs of the school. Interim measures are important, but there needs to be a long-term solution for staff, for pupils, and for their families,” he said.
Fianna Fáil TD, Pádraig O’Sullivan said the current setting is not ‘appropriate’.
“It is not an appropriate education or care setting. Something needs to be done long-term. We are talking about students with profound needs and intellectual disabilities. Some students have a dual diagnosis of autism. The real solution is to knock it and to start again whether on-site or elsewhere,” he added.
Responding in the Dáil, the Minister for Education Norma Foley said the department is committed to providing for the school’s long-term accommodation needs and is considering all options available.
She noted that the school is adjoined to another former primary school and said this property has the potential to offer the school extra space to meet its accommodation needs, but remedial work would be required to facilitate its use.
“The department will continue to engage with the school, the diocese, and all necessary stakeholders in progressing the future of the school. An architect and an engineer have visited,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education told The Echo: “The department is committed to meeting the long-term accommodation needs of St Gabriel’s, and work is ongoing to advance appropriate permanent accommodation for the school. The department will continue to engage with the school in this regard.”
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