Thursday, January 04, 2018

A SITE has been acquired at last for a new school for severely disabled children who have endured cold and damp prefabs for years. Conditions at Kolbe Special School in Portlaoise have brought a litany of complaints from parents and staff. Almost 40 disabled children attend the school, where eight of the ten rooms are in totally unsuitable prefabs that are damp and difficult to heat.

The New Year finally brings good news. A site has just been acquired for a purpose-built school suitable for children with a variety of severe intellectual and physical disabilities.

The HSE-owned site is located in the grounds of the Cuisle Centre on the Block Road in Portlaoise and has just been transferred from the HSE to Kolbe. An architectural inspection is due to be carried out shortly in order to finalise the project brief for a new school building.

Over the past 30 years, the school has expanded considerably and currently caters for 39 children aged between four and 18, many with physical disabilities and/or severe to profound learning difficulties. While there are ten separate rooms in the current building, eight are in totally unsuitable prefabs that are difficult to heat and some have patches of dampness. The school also lacks space for PE, which had to be cancelled indefinitely a few weeks ago, although it is a vital part of the curriculum.

The urgent need for a new school was raised in the Dáil shortly before Christmas by Laois TD Brian Stanley, who said he was shocked at conditions during a recent visit to the existing school on the Block Road. He said: “Having seen at first hand the situation, I was shocked by the difficulties faced by staff and pupils on a daily basis.”

Deputy Stanley urged education minister Richard Bruton to visit the school himself to witness the desperate conditions faced by students and staff. Minister Bruton replied that acquisition of a suitable site for the school’s permanent accommodation had just been completed and arrangements were being made to finalise the project brief for the school “with the aim of progressing the project into the architectural planning process”.

While the minister did not identify the site, the Laois Nationalist has confirmed that it is located in the grounds of the Cuisle Centre.

Deputy Stanley said it was vital that the architectural inspection be carried out as soon as possible, so that there would be no further delay in providing a properly equipped school building. He said: “Kolbe has a very committed board of management and support from parents in terms of fundraising. The government and the Department of Education now need to do their part. I have urged minister Bruton to visit the school and to see at first hand the important work being carried out there by the staff and for progress to be made in providing a new school.”

Meanwhile, generous fire crews from the Laois Fire and Rescue Service visited the school just before Christmas to present a cheque for €550.The money was raised at fire safety open weeks held at fire stations around the county throughout the year.

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By Carmel Hayes
Contact Newsdesk: +353 57 86 70216

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