Waterford’s newest ‘education hub’ became operational last Thursday morning, with the opening of two new primary schools on a five-acre site at Carrickphierish.
The massive development provides a permanent home for Gaelscoil na nDéise, which relocated from Grace Dieu and Waterford’s Educate Together, which spent many years at Tycor and was most recently based in the former ‘Little Sisters of the Poor’ building on Bunker’s Hill.
The education campus cost €11.5 million to construct and encompasses the two separate, 16-classroom primary schools, each with its own dedicated special needs unit, playgrounds and hard-surfaced basketball courts, as well as a public library and ‘community learning suite’ that will provide a digital hub for Council services, along with a full-sized multi-purpose hall that is available to the wider community from 3pm each day. The library is due to open in early 2016.
Construction on the joint project between the Department of Education and Skills and then Waterford City Council commenced in February 2014 following a lengthy campaign by both schools for their own school buiilding. The original plan for the education campus was devised in 2006, when both schools were first included in the Government’s School Building Programme. The project has since been beset with delays and has gone out to tender four times since 2009.
Marc de Grás is the principal of Gaelscoil na nDéise, which spent 15 years in prefab accommodation. He said the new school is the realisation of many years of dreams and aspirations.
“All the Boards of Management, staff, principals and parents since the school first started had a role in this. It’s literally taken us 20 years to get here and it’s a massive milestone for the school and also for the Irish language in Waterford. For a gaelscoil of this size to be built and to be given these kind of facilities, it shows that the language is very much alive and modern here.”
Up to 1,000 can be accommodated across the campus, between the two schools and it’s envisaged that both will significantly increase their enrolment numbers in the years ahead.
“This year we’ll have 233 in our own school but there is the capacity to more than double this figure in the coming years, to accommodate the growing population in the area”, Marc continued. “It’s a long way to come from when the school first opened in Lady Lane in 1996, when there was 14 children on the roll.”
Since opening last Thursday, Marc said the young pupils are have been especially enjoying the amount of space at the new building.
“We really have gone from one extreme to the other. The first thing you notice when you walk in the door is the space and the quietness. It’s not because the children are being any quieter than before, it’s just we’re now in a proper building with proper walls, compared to small prefab rooms with the sound travelling all over. The extra space that the children have to play in – both outside and in the new hall – is making a huge difference immediately. It sounds basic but it’s having an enormous impact on us all.
“The hall will be split in two for use by the two schools during the day but even our half of the room is one and a half times the size of a standard primary school hall so that’s a huge luxury for us. Especially looking ahead to the winter, we can plan all these activities and not have to worry what the weather will be like.
“Waterford Sports Partnership has been granted €70,000 of a capital grant and with that they’ll be buying equipment for the hall that we in our wildest dreams could not have been in a position to purchase. There have already been lots of calls in about the hall, I’d say it will be a really busy facility in the community. Between that and the new library and the schools, they really will be a catalyst for the area.”