Nineteen separate schools across Waterford City and County have had to rent prefabs in place of classrooms – some for over a decade.

The schools in question stretch from The Light of Christ School in Dunmore East to Aglish NS in west Waterford.

Deputy Brian Hayes, Fine Gael’s Education Spokesman, has been informed that the cost to the taxpayer for renting prefabs in 2009 alone was €25.24 million countrywide.

His party colleague, Waterford city councillor John Cummins says: “I cannot believe these figures at a time when we are trying to cut out needless waste and schools are crying out for properly-built classrooms.”

They’re “all the more startling” given that the Department “failed to spend a huge chunk of money set aside for the School Building Programme last year.”

The Department shelled out €790,620.14 on renting prefabs for 19 Waterford schools during the year just ended. Cllr Cummins is convinced others are also reliant on prefabs but fund them privately.

“The Minister cannot justify this extraordinary waste of money,” he asserts. “It’s supposed to be temporary accommodation but some Waterford schools have been renting these prefabs for over 10 years now, at an average annual cost of €12,000 each.”

He makes the point that the State could have built countless permanent classrooms for the same money.

The money spent on prefabs at Holy Cross NS in Tramore since 1999 has been highlighted by Deputies John Deasy and Brian O’Shea in the past. Cllr Cummins notes that the Presentation Secondary School in the city has been renting a dozen prefabs since 2005 at an annual cost of €80,199.

“Both these schools were promised new school buildings but nothing has happened to date. In the meantime the government continues to spend what is effectively dead money.”

He wants the Department to set and meet deadlines for all new building projects and to renegotiate contracts with prefab providers “as rents in the residential and commercial sectors have fallen.”

The Minister says he’s on the case: first, he has authorised schools to use grant aid for the purchase of temporary accommodation to instead build a permanent classroom; and secondly if temporary accommodation is required for more than three years the Department will offer a school a grant to buy it rather than to rent it, thereby making further savings.

Also, Dept representatives have met suppliers to negotiate reductions in rental costs. As a result of these initiatives, the Minister expects to save €14m on prefab rental this year. Also, the main reason the full €614m was not spent in ’09, he added, was a 30% reduction in tender prices which is “good news for the taxpayer.”