St Joseph's Convent in Ferbane

Ferbane convent overhaul could be completed in 2025

It's hoped that the redevelopment of St Joseph's Convent in Ferbane, which will see St Hilda's Services and the Laois Offaly Education Training Board (LOETB) becoming anchor tenants, can be completed before the end of 2025.

Design work on the project is due to begin shortly, with Offaly County Council waiting on departmental approval to proceed with the appointment of a contractor to carry out the designs.

Olwen Cummins of Offaly County Council's Regeneration Team told the Offaly Independent this week that part of the building would be redeveloped specifically for St Hilda's Services, and that the LOETB would also be providing training services from it.

She said the building would be leased to the Ferbane community group, An Síolán, after it has been refurbished.

"An Síolán are going to run it, and maintain it with their anchor tenants, and the rest of the building will be multi-purpose community space that they will use," she explained.

She said the community space in the large building could be used for activities like yoga, cards, scout groups, and Foroige youth organisation meetings.

Ms Cummins said there were also plans to create an urban garden alongside the river at the convent site, and this would be available for use by the local community.

She felt the project had tremendous potential to help increase the level of footfall in the centre of Ferbane.

"There are a number of vacant properties in the area, so you would like to hope that maybe a coffee shop or some other businesses could spring up as a result of a project like this," she said.

"These are civic-led projects, and Offaly County Council is committed to trying to rejuvenate some of these buildings in order to help rejuvenate town and village centres in the county."

When asked about the overall timeframe for the project, she said she was hopeful the final designs would be completed, and planning permission would be in place, by March of next year.

An application for capital funding to carry out the work on the building would then be made to central Government, and Ms Cummins said she expected that, when funding is secured and a contractor is appointed, the construction project would then take around 18 months.

In the meantime, she said, it's hoped that two classrooms in the convent would be opened for community use from next month. The An Síolán community group will be managing the use of the rooms, and it's anticipated that the local scouts and Foroige would be availing of the facility.

"They will be using it in the short-term, and then obviously we will have to close it down when it becomes a construction site for the refurbishment," she said.

In August of last year, the final three sisters living in Ferbane convent said farewell to the historic building, moving to a home along the Athlone Road.