The management of one of the largest second-level schools in Louth has moved to allay concerns among some local residents about plans to build a new school to replace buildings three different centuries that have been deemed unsuitable for 21st Century education.
With accommodation for up to 900 pupils, the new St Mary’s College post-primary school will have specialist classrooms for subjects including technology, construction studies, home economics and design while there will also be a learning support room. There will also be a library, purpose-built science laboratories, a music/drama room with staging area, over 20 general classrooms, a physical education hall with changing and fitness suites. The plans also include a general purpose hall as well as catering, staff offices and other ancillary space.
External works will provide five ball courts, GAA playing and training pitches, covered bicycle racks, landscaping and 65 car parking spaces. Some 17 of the almost 130 trees on the campus will have to be felled with seven of these identified as requiring removal as they are diseased. In addition, the ground level of the site is being raised in areas as a flood prevention measure.
The project – one of only a handful of new school buildings to be advanced since the economic collapse – is to be delivered through a Public Private Partnership on the site of the existing school which will continue to operate during the 18-month construction period. It is hoped that the new school will be ready for classes to commence in September 2016.
In response to local concerns, residents in the area have met Diarmaid Ó Murchú (chair board of management), Con McGinley (principal) St Mary’s College and representatives of the Society of Mary (Marist Fathers). As trustees of the school founded in 1861, the Marist Fathers are providing the site for the new school within the existing 11-acre grounds on St Mary’s Road.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Ó Murchú said: “It was a good opportunity for us to hear first-hand from people living close to the school and to try and address any legitimate concerns they may have about what is planned. Naturally, there was a lot of interest in finding out how the new school building will impact on those who live nearby and we sought to provide both information and reassurance. We remain open to further discussions and engagement.
“In terms of the planning process, our professional team are currently assembling the further information requested by the local authority last month. One of the big opportunities that the new school building project gives us is to address existing issues around access for vehicles to and from the school when pupils are being dropped off or collected. Using separate entrances and exits will help ease congestion at the morning and afternoon peaks.”
Mr McGinley added: “As principal of the school, I’m very aware of the limitations of the current buildings which are a mix of the original 1861 school and various additions made over the last century and a half. Indeed, the only current classrooms that meet best practice in terms of space and layout are in our four pre-fabricated buildings. Knowing the benefits to current and prospective pupils, the teaching staff and board of management are very excited to have gotten the go-ahead nationally to proceed with our plans. In basic terms, the new school building will mean that the boys and girls who attend St Mary’s College will have access to the very best of modern school accommodation. We will also be able to provide a greater subject choice and cater more fully to a wider range of learning styles and abilities. Ours will be one of just 12 new secondary schools in the entire country to proceed to construction this year and it is testament to the whole school community and the support we have always enjoyed in Dundalk that we have been approved. This also recognises the growing demand for school places and demographic trends tell us this will continue.”