Three local schools using rented prefabs are to receive grant aid to replace prefabs with permanent classrooms. The news was revealed by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn last Thursday, March 1. Two schools in Athlone - St Paul's and St Mary's - and one in Kilbeggan, Scoil an Chlochair, will wave goodbye to rented prefabs as part of the initiative.
Speaking this week a Department of Education spokesperson said contact has been made with all schools on the list of those to replace rented prefab accommodation and the replacement process will begin in schools immediately.
Fine Gael TD Nicky McFadden reacted positively to the news this week, saying she is delighted the six schools in Westmeath will finally be able to build permanent, state of the art classrooms after years of renting prefabs.
"For many years during the height of the boom, Fine Gael consistently called for this serious waste of money which was spent on renting prefabs to be addressed," she said. "Despite the massive amount of spending that went on during the boom, the previous Government did nothing to address this. Instead they continued renting prefabs: in 2007 alone, 715 rental contracts were signed."
The prefab replacement scheme will affect 188 of the 586 schools currently renting prefabs nationwide, and approximately 6,000 pupils.
A total of €35m has been allocated for the initiative in 2012 and it's expected it will result in savings of approximately €5m each year on the rental of prefabs in the coming years.
The scheme is also expected to create approximately 700 direct jobs and 140 indirect jobs.
Schools that have qualified for the initiative include those renting prefabs that are required in the long term with any major project unlikely to be completed in the short or medium term.
School included also have sites sufficiently large to accommodate a permanent build while continuing to use rented prefabs. Schools in rented prefabs on rented sites have not been included in the initiative, nor have schools with sites not large enough to accommodate both the construction of a new build while also containing prefabs that are currently rented.
The maximum grant aid being given for a standard classroom under the scheme is €110,000, and the provision of the funding will mean any previous application by the school for an extension will be deemed to have been addressed and will be removed from the department's list of outstanding projects.
Labour TD Willie Penrose also welcomed the news, describing the proliferation of prefabs at schools over the past decade as "mind boggling".
"It was foolhardy economics to say the least, and this is demonstrated by the fact that the Minister has indicated that this proposal will result in an annual saving of €5m for the exchequer," he said.
According to the Department of Education the average rental cost of a standard prefab classroom in 2008/9 was between €15,000 and €16,000 each year.
That cost has since decreased to just under €15,000 per year. Deputy Penrose said the replacement of prefabs will benefit entire communities, but especially pupils, teachers, Boards of Management and Parents Associations.