£700k spent on upkeep of schools in Northern Ireland left empty for years
Almost £700,000 has been spent on maintaining vacant school sites, it has been revealed.
Some 27 former premises are unused across Northern Ireland.
One site has been vacant for 16 years. A further four have been empty for more than a decade, the Education Minister said.
Because the sites were not sold on, the taxpayer has been picking up the tab for their maintenance.
In the last three years the total bill came to £698,500.
The details were released by John O'Dowd following Assembly questions from Lord Morrow.
The DUP peer said: "These are worryingly high costs to the taxpayer and if the properties are not going to be reused for education purposes, or utilised in a meaningful way, they should be sold on.
"There is nothing to be gained except further maintenance expenditure, which is not an investment if there is no possibility of reactiviation for use."
Mr O'Dowd confirmed that 40 schools in the controlled sector have closed in recent years.
Thirteen of these have a tenant, the remaining 27 are vacant.
The longest vacant school site is Ravarnette Primary in Lisburn, which has been unused since 1999.
It is understood complex legal issues have prevented the sale of the site.
Other long-term vacated sites include:
- Castle Gardens Primary in Newtownards, which has been vacant since 2001.
- Ballycarrickmaddy Primary in Lisburn, which has been vacant since 2002.
- Ballypriormore Primary in Islandmagee, which closed in 2003.
- And Forth River Primary in Belfast, which has been vacant since 2003.
In some cases the sites became vacant after schools moved to new premises.
In other cases the school closed completely.
The sites remained in the ownership of the various education and library boards, and are now the responsibility of the Education Authority.
The single body replaced the five education boards earlier this year.
In the last 12 months the cost of maintaining the sites was £192,416.
In 2013/14 some £158,605 was spent, while a further £347,479 was spent in the 2012/13 financial year.
An Education Authority spokesperson defended the expenditure.
"The Education Authority has a responsibility to ensure that its vacant property is safely and securely maintained," she said.
"This includes sealing the vacant buildings to avoid unauthorised entry and deploying various security measures to prevent damage and protect the value of the assets for resale." Mr O'Dowd said: "The Education Authority is responsible for schools in the controlled sector.
"Voluntary grammar, maintained and grant maintained integrated schools are owned and managed by the school's trustees. On closure responsibility for these assets reverts solely to the appropriate trustees.
"If the Education Authority does not identify any other educational use for the closed school the property will be disposed of in accordance with Department of Finance and Personnel's guidance.
"Demolition will only be carried out for health and safety reasons or on the advice of Land & Property Service where it might expedite a sale or significantly enhance the open market value."