Taoiseach to officially open new Athlone Community College

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will officially open the new Athlone Community College building at a special ceremony on Monday next, April 3.

Some 1,149 students are taught at the school, where the state-of-the-art facilities have been in use since Easter 2014.

The Fine Gael leader is scheduled to cut the ribbon at the building with Molly Connaughton, a Transition Year student who locked the door on the old school building for the last time prior to its demolition.

He will also unveil an official opening plaque with Sarah Downey, the youngest student at the school.

Mr Kenny will be given a tour of the school, which will be followed by a gathering in the sports hall that will include a candle lighting service, music, and an ecumenical blessing by the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Francis Duffy, Church of Ireland Bishop Patricia Storey, and school chaplain Fr Mark Bennett.

Among the students Mr Kenny will meet are the school’s debating champions – the Díospóireachtaí senior team which recently won the All-Ireland title.

'I’m sure he will be delighted to speak with them because the motion (in the final), which they proposed, was that the Taoiseach was right to visit the White House,' said Athlone Community College principal, Eileen Donohoe.

She said the school was 'honoured and privileged' to have Mr Kenny coming to perform the official opening. There were times when speculation in the media suggested he might not remain in office until April.

'I’d have to admire him for sticking to his guns and letting nobody put him out. He’ll decide when he wants to go,' said Ms Donohoe.

The State Examinations Commission has facilitated the school by adjusting the timetable for Junior Cert Home Economics practicals, Leaving Cert Music practicals and Leaving Cert oral Irish exams in order to allow students attend Monday's event.

The ceremony represents the formal culmination of the new school development, the need for which was first identified well over a decade ago.

The Old Vocational School on Northgate Street moved to the Retreat Road site in 1974, when Athlone Community College was built to cater for 500 students. Ms Donohoe joined the teaching staff in 1978, the year that school building had its official opening.

Val O'Connor became principal of the school in 1983 and, over the years, student enrolment increased significantly.

'The student numbers went from 226 up to where we are today,' said Ms Donohoe.

The school currently employs 84 teachers, four special needs assistants, and a number of part-time staff.

'We have wonderful, dedicated staff and there’s a fantastic mix in the staff room as well. It’s great to get that new vibrancy and energy with young teachers coming in every year. That’s a big plus. They bring their own developments into the school, their own ideas, and that can only enhance teaching and learning.'

She said that the 'whole dynamic' of the school had been changed by the move into the new building. The previous building created difficulties as a result of its narrow corridors, lack of ventilation and light, and inadequate heating.

'Now you have this lovely brightness, spaciousness, colour, wide corridors... the students appreciate all of that,' said Ms Donohoe.

'The building is fantastic, but it’s not about the building, it’s what happens inside the building that’s so important.'

The current senior cycle students at the school have experienced both the old and new versions of Athlone Community College.

'The big difference they see is that the whole teaching and learning dimension has changed considerably. All of our classrooms have PCs. We have four dedicated computer rooms plus a language lab. We have state-of-the-art art facilities, science labs, fitness suite, sports hall. So the teaching and learning has been hugely enhanced.'

She said that some incoming students can be anxious about the sheer size of the building, but its architectural design 'lends itself to ease of movement.'

'A lot of people say it resembles a third level campus, so that should help to make the students' transition to third level a little bit easier,' she commented.

Ms Donohoe paid tribute to the contributions made by Mr O'Connor; the former CEO of Westmeath VEC Gearóid Ó Brádaigh; the CEO of Longford Westmeath ETB Christy Duffy, and others, to the new school development.

The new Athlone Community College is a PPP (Public Private Partnership) school, which means that the security, cleaning and maintenance of the building are handled by a property management company, BAM FM.