Many school buildings across Northern Ireland will remain in a dire condition for a long time to come despite a £23m windfall for new-build and maintenance projects, it was claimed today.
Ulster Unionist education spokesman Basil McCrea has stressed that essential health and safety maintenance work totalling £90m still needs to be addressed and a further backlog of £200m of other maintenance work has yet to be tackled.
The Education Minister’s announcement that 14 school capital building projects — 10 of them in the Catholic and Irish-medium sectors — will benefit from £13m will also put only a small dent in the £500m total backlog of capital work. A further £10m has been found for maintenance.
Mr McCrea has urged Caitriona Ruane to be open about her reasons to fund the building projects. Of the schools to get the long-awaited go ahead from the Minister, only half were rated “fully compliant” with department policies following a long review of capital build projects.
The other seven schools given funding this week were listed as only “partially compliant” in June — which meant that issues needed to be resolved before building work could begin.
Mr McCrea said: “The Minister needs to publicise the priority list of school building projects waiting for funding so that if more money becomes available we know which school will get it next.
“She also needs to be open and transparent about the criteria she uses in her ranking, so we can be sure that it is fair.
“There is currently too much uncertainty for schools and we should not gloss over the fact there there is still millions of pounds of essential maintenance work not being addressed.
“This means some schools will remain in a dire condition for some time to come. This needs some sort of strategic vision.
“Schools will have to amalgamate and share resources and we will not be able to retain four or five schools in some areas. Area-based planning of the schools’ estate must be brought forward urgently.”