TALKS are underway that could bring up to 40 new social houses to the former Presentation Convent site in Portlaoise, as well as a permanent home for Dunamase College.
Laois County Council chief executive John Mulholland has confirmed that two social housing bodies are in talks with the Presentation nuns regarding the proposals. The current suggestion is for a medium-density project containing 30 to 40 homes, which would be built on one part of the large site in Church Avenue off Main Street.
Meanwhile, Laois-Offaly Education and Training Board (LOETB) is continuing to look at the site as a possible home for Dunamase College, the town’s newest secondary school, which is currently based in temporary accommodation on Railway Street.
Mr Mulholland told the latest meeting of Laois County Council that it would be “quite some time yet” before a final stage is reached in the ongoing discussions. He said it was his understanding that the two housing bodies and the LOETB are working together on the proposals, which he described as positive for the town.
The two social housing bodies – Cooperative Housing Ireland and Sophia Housing – are in ongoing discussions with the Presentation Order in a bid to develop a variety of properties on the site, ranging from one- or two-bed units up to family homes.
The extensive site has been on the market for nearly two years but Mr Mulholland said the county council did not make an offer because the other housing bodies are involved. He said: “It will be quite some time yet before we see what they have brought to the final stage. These approved housing bodies look to our direction and have to work with us on removing people from the housing list.”
The chief executive pointed out that the former convent, now boarded up, is a listed building and there will be no question of high-rise buildings on the site. He said: “The listed building will be respected in terms of architectural treatment and there will be consultation with the county council on the plans.”
His comments came in response to a query from cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley, who is LOETB chairperson. A few months ago, the council agreed to her proposal that education minister Richard Bruton be asked to acquire the convent site, with a view to providing a permanent home for Dunamase College in a newly-constructed building.
Since it opened last September with about 44 students, the college has been located temporarily in the refurbished former vocational school while it awaits a permanent home. Based on current numbers attending primary schools in the town, the Department of Education has identified 875 extra students at post-primary level in Portlaoise in the coming years and it is expected that Dunamase College will be a 1,000-student school by 2024.