Tight budgets delay repair to 'dangerous classroom'

Joanne Ross


Joanne Ross



DAMAGE caused by Storm Ali has been the “final straw” for a mobile classroom at St Paul’s Primary School, Cabra.

The modular building used by the Primary 3 class is now in such a poor state that it cannot be used.

Principal Declan Mason last week informed the Friends of St Paul’s Association (FOSPA) that the building is not in a suitable condition. He told them that while the Education Authority (EA) has made a commitment to replace the roof, he could not give them any timeframe.

“I understand where the EA maintenance is coming from and the support they have given us has been very good. But their hands are tied with the financial restraints,” Mr Mason said.

“It’s a case when they will give us a replacement roof, but for me I do not know if that is enough. For the parents it certainly isn’t.”

When Storm Ali hit on Wednesday, 19 September Mr Mason and the teachers at St Paul’s acted quickly when they saw a potentially very dangerous situation brewing.

“I saw the canopy moving and I could see the felt was starting to move, so we got the children out and moved.

“I asked for the canopy to be removed, but Storm Ali did that for us. There by the grace of God, the children were not in the classroom.

“We were very lucky that our staff are proactive and aware. They were very active that morning in looking at the dangers at the school and we made a decision very early on and we were very lucky. It could have been the case that a child or member of staff were in that room when it came off.”

Maintenance staff from the EA came out to the school and “patched up” what they could, however Mr Mason said Storm Ali was the last straw for this mobile.

While he has been told the mobile is “structurally safe” he said for him it is a “health and safety issue” and represents “part of the crisis that is hitting education at the moment”.

“I have told them [the EA] it is more than a roof we need. There is damp that was there before, which is a culmination of other rotting in the ceiling.

“Then there are windows which are starting to leak because of the movement of the mobile and windowsills are crumbling. There is an awful distinctive smell, it’s like a rotten bin. It’s come to a head because of Storm Ali. The floor is spongy in areas too.

“The teacher and a child have a serious respiratory issue and to put them in those damp conditions and with the pungent smell in the room, the health and safety implications are huge.

“A number of mothers came to me and said we cannot put children in that environment. My hands are tied, the gentlemen from maintenance their hands are tied as well. A major refurbishment of the mobile would be required.

“This is not the first trouble we have had with it. We have had repairs to the flooring, fire exit doors and the windows, Storm Ali has been the final straw.”

Mr Mason said that while the parents, teachers and children “have been very understanding” he remains very frustrated at the situation.

“They are now in a 3m x 6m room and there are 15 pupils and their teacher in that, so it is a squeeze.

“The full curriculum is not really being achieved either because it’s limited. The teacher would have had a play area and a reading area, but in this space they do not have much room to move around.

“The pupils are essentially in a resource room, they are in a cramped, multi-purpose room that is also used for any other facilities that come in, so then they have to do their work in the dining hall. Then the dinner ladies can’t set up the tables until they are finished. So it impinges on school life, there is a domino effect.

“I am very lucky that I have parents who are very understanding, they have been accommodating and understanding. But you do not like to have to give parents news like this, particularly in a situation where I can’t give them any answer as to when their children will be back in that modular classroom,” he said.

“It could be six months before this roof is on. They cannot give me a date because it all depends on the EA’s tender and that is trying to cover the whole of Northern Ireland. They just cannot meet the demand.

“I am very concerned. I know the way the EA works and I know the financial constraints are terrible on education. I can understand when they say they are trying to do their best to make it habitable, but for the parents they are asking what about their children.

“It’s unacceptable in the 21st century that we have children in that environment and that is down to financial constraints.

“We have a third world environment for a first world education. It’s frustrating for me, for the parents and for the staff.”

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