Posted by Tom Gilmore, Tuam Herald in News.

The prospect of Claregalway getting a Secondary School to cater for 850 to 1,000 students has moved a step closer this week with the Department of Education expected to advertise for a site for the proposed new building in the near future.

“To hear that the Department is moving towards acquiring a site is excellent progress,” says Dr Paddy Tobin, Chairperson of the Claregalweay Second Level Parents Action Committee.

When contacted by The Tuam Herald, Dr Tobin said that while the committee were not negotiating with anyone for a site they had four or five meetings with planning staff from Galway Co Council’s roads and environmental services sections.

“While not negotiating with either the Department or land owners regarding any specific site we have been working on ideas with John Kelly, the Planning Director of Tobin Consulting Engineers, Galway.

“He has been of great assistance to the committee in evaluating potential sites for a temporary school building, and at meetings with the planning authorities, roads section and environmental services to discuss this. All the work completed in this regard will now be passed over to the Dept of Education to assist them in the search for a permanent school site,” says Dr Tobin.

“We have also worked closely with the Claregalway Community Development Association. While it is not our position to engage with anyone regarding acquiring land we have identified about half a dozen possible sites,” he said.

Dr Tobin said the statement by Deputy Frank Fahey that the Tánaiste and Minister for Education had confirmed to him that the Department is actively seeking a suitable site is a great boost for the project.

“From day one Deputy Fahey got behind our campaign and he set up a meeting with the Minister for Education last July regarding our proposals. We have got great assistance also from Co Galway Vocational Education committee and of course there is huge support in Claregalway and surrounding areas for the school,” says Dr Tobin.

He says that if the school were to open this September they would have 110 first year students ready to start. However such a start-up date is unlikely, and even if there were facilities, possibly temporary buildings, on a permanent site purchased by the Department, for a school by September 2012 this would be viewed as progress.

“We have over 900 pre-enrolled for a second level school. This is not just parents signing some sort of pledge but over 570 parents have all filled out endorsement forms to send their children to the school as soon as it opens,” says Dr Tobin.

When contacted by The Tuam Herald, Deputy Frank Fahey said good progress is being made with the project.

“It is my understanding that the Department will be advertising for a suitable site and I am also lobbying the Tánaiste and Minister for Education to agree that once the site is obtained, temporary facilities be put in place there for the school to open in September 2012,” he added.

However, the possibility of the school being located in an empty unit at the Claregalway Corporate Park now seems more remote. This had been suggested at a Co Galway VEC meeting last May. But due to the falling price of sites, and of construction costs, it might now be more practical to start working on a permanent site rather than having to modify an industrial unit and then move out to another site later.

The committee says there are six primary schools within three to four miles of Claregalway with 1,100 children and another five primary schools within five to six miles with a further 800 children, a total of 1,900.

“Due to a lack of capacity in surrounding secondary schools there is crisis in finding places for children from the area. Children currently travel to fourteen secondary schools, with resulting short and long-term negative effects on friendships, sports clubs and community,” says Dr Tobin.

The Claregalway committee says that Co Galway VEC is their preferred choice as patron of the new school. This was made known to the Department of Education prior to changes in the guidelines regarding the way patrons are selected. It is now required that school committees have a tendering process for patrons. But as the Claregalway committee had indicated, Co Galway VEC was their choice before the rule changes and they hope the VEC will be the patron.

According to the Claregalway committee their school was the only one—outside the greater Dublin area which has eight—to be put the Department of Education’s list for new schools between 2012 and 2016. This list was published on January 24th.