Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

£100m school building bids approved

John O'Dowd announced that construction projects worth more than £100 million have been approved for 50 schools in Northern Ireland

Constructions projects worth more than £100 million have been approved for 50 schools in Northern Ireland.

The refurbishment or extension works, each valued between £500,000 and £4 million, were announced by Education Minister John O'Dowd.

Some of the schemes, which together total £106 million, also involve the provision of new sports facilities.

The 50 schools had submitted their capital investment applications under the School Enhancement Programme (SEP) - an initiative set up by the minister last year.

"The purpose of this programme was to ensure that we provide the best possible education estate for our children and young people, within the budget available," Mr O'Dowd said.

"The SEP is designed to enable the refurbishment or extension of existing schools and I am pleased to announce today that 50 schools have been informed that their applications have been successful and will be advanced to planning.

"This represents a potential investment in the estate of £106 million over the next two to three years."

The minister added: "The successful projects are all consistent with the emerging area plans and the scale of the investment underlines my continuing commitment to improving the schools estate.

"It comes in addition to the major works projects worth £350 million I have announced since last summer; in addition to the £31 million I have invested in minor works since January; and in addition to the £47 million I have earmarked for maintenance this year.

"Today's announcement is good news for the pupils, staff and school communities involved, as well as being a welcome boost for the local construction industry."

Meanwhile, Mr O'Dowd has extended by a week his consultation period on how schools are funded because of a technical computer issue.

A problem on an online response form affected the recording of yes and no answers when answering questions about a proposal not to change the funding arrangements for special units attached to mainstream schools.

The minister said: "There has been strong support to date for this proposal during the consultation period. This is also evidenced through analysis of over 1,000 of the hard copy responses. Over 99% of these were in agreement with my proposal that there should be no changes to this aspect.

"Given this overwhelming response in favour, and the fact no concerns have been raised about this particular proposal to preserve existing funding arrangements for special units, it is reasonable to expect that the online responses would have reflected this support.

"However, if there are voices with a different view on the arrangements for special units, it's important that these are heard and I would encourage anyone who hasn't already participated in the consultation to do so."

Democratic Unionist MLA Mervyn Storey accused the minister of not listening to arguments over the common funding proposals, which he believes will leave some schools disadvantaged.

"This is a crisis in our schools and I have never seen concern in our schools like there is with this particular issue," he said.

"It seems the minister and his department do not know how to handle this situation. I am very concerned as to the way in which these things are being run."

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