Plans for a £30million new build at St Ronan’s College in Lurgan are in chaos after the procurement for work on the site, which had been due to begin in the summer, collapsed.
It's feared rising material costs since the project initially received the green light in October 2020 for a new school to accommodate 1,750 pupils and scheduled for completion in 2023, have sent costs spiralling.
Initial groundwork has started on the site in February this year.
The Department of Education said due to market uncertainties and after legal advice, the procurement process was withdrawn and another process will be taken forward. It said a fresh competition would take place as soon as possible.
There will now be further fears that a number of other school building projects scheduled over the next few years will face similar difficulties.
SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said the news has come as “a huge blow” for the community who had been expecting investment in a new state of the art facility.
“This is devastating news for Lurgan and for a whole generation of young people who should have been served by a state-of-the-art new campus at St Ronan’s College,” said Ms Kelly.
“I have been working with school leaders, the local community and parents on these plans for well over a decade. This just feels like a kick in the teeth for everyone who has been put in so much effort to get us this far.
“I am also disappointed that the Education Minister has been unable to provide a timeline for a fresh procurement exercise. We were expecting builders on site this summer. Now people in our community are expected to sit in limbo. It’s not good enough.
“DUP Minister Michelle McIlveen needs to outline what will be done and how we can get this project back on track to serve the young people of Lurgan immediately.”
SDLP Education Spokesperson Daniel McCrossan raised significant concerns about procurement processes across the schools estate as a result of rising material costs and a lack of action by the Education Minister and Finance Minister.
“I have been raising concerns about procurement with the Education Minister and the Finance Minister for weeks.
“The increase in material costs has had a significant impact on those who successfully bid for tenders across the public sector but particularly in our schools estate.
“We are reaching a critical situation for a number of important projects across. While the Procurement Advisory Note issued by the Finance Minister identified the problem, he has not presented an effective solution. The result is that procurement processes will collapse and projects designed to transform the lives of people will be stalled. The longer these projects are delayed, the more susceptible they become to longer term material price volatility.
“I will be seeking urgent answers from the Education Minister about the extent of this problem and the schools where new builds are now in jeopardy.”
The Department of Education spokesperson added: “Due to the current market uncertainties and following legal advice, the procurement process to appoint an integrated supply team for St Ronan’s College, Lurgan has been withdrawn and a new procurement process will be taken forward.
“While this is disappointing news for everyone concerned, the department is taking all necessary steps to commence a fresh competition as soon as possible.”