Westmeath schools fork out €1.5m on prefabs

A total of almost €1.5 million has been paid out by Westmeath primary schools for the rent of prefabs over the last 10 years, according to figures released by the Department of Education this week. In Athlone alone, prefabricated structures have cost schools some €485,000 in rent, as several schools await approval on urgently needed extensions.

Top of the list for the Athlone area is Coosan NS, Hillquarter, where three separate prefabs, the first of which dates back to 2001, have so far cost a total of over €167,000. The school is paying out annual rent of €32,250 on the temporary structures.

At St Clare’s National School, Tubberclare, two prefabs have cost €145,682 in rent since their arrival on school property in September 2001.

Cornamaddy National School is the only Athlone school to have been renting a prefab for a period of more than 10 years, paying out a total of €72,197.50 since November 1999.

Also on the list of Athlone schools paying out for prefab rental are Clonbonny NS at €55,598, St Paul’s NS at €30,326, and St Mary’s NS at €14,531.

Depending on the size of the prefab, the number of classrooms it contains, and the rates of the rental company, the structures can cost anything from €5,000 to €46,000 in rent annually.

In the Mullingar area, over €608,000 has been spent on prefab rental in the past 10 years, while the total for the entire county has so far run to €1,482,680. Annually, the cost to the county is some €437,000, while nationally the money paid out on prefabs each year is in the region of €25 million.

The figures came to light this week after Fine Gael education spokesman, Deputy Brian Hayes, tabled several parliamentary questions to the Department of Education on the issue.

Reacting to the figures, local senator, Nicky McFadden, said the ongoing rent of prefabs for use as primary school classrooms is “a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money”.

“Through a series of Parliamentary Questions tabled by Brian Hayes, I have discovered that five separate prefabs in Longford/ Westmeath have been rented for at least 10 years or more. The cost of renting these prefabs runs into thousands and this ‘dead money’ should instead be spent on providing permanent classrooms,” said the Senator.

“In virtually all of these cases, the State could have built at least one or two classrooms for the money it spent renting out temporary accommodation over the period. It is a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money and a terrible indictment of how Fianna Fáil treats schools and their building needs.

“The Minister cannot justify this extraordinary waste of money. How can any school be ignored for so long as companies which provide prefabs simply make a financial killing over a long period? The idea behind temporary accommodation is that it should be for a short period of time, not a decade or more.

“The juggernaut of waste from Fianna Fáil and the Department of Education trundles on and it is children, parents and teachers in Longford/ Westmeath who are paying the price.”

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