The opening of an Educate Together school in Castlebar this September moved a step closer this week, when the elected members of the Castlebar Municipal District agreed to a four year and nine month lease of Marsh House to the Department of Education and Skills.
However, there were concerns expressed by the majority of the councillors about the location of the school in the old Castlebar Town Council offices at Newtown, especially when it came to traffic concerns and the safety of children accessing the school.
The permission granted by the councillors from the Castlebar Municipal District is just the first hurdle the planned school will have to overcome if it is to be opened in September, it now has to pass a meeting of the full body of Mayo County Council which will take place this Monday, July 18, and it is also subject to the project then getting planning permission. A planning application was lodged with the council on June 7 and is currently being assessed.
Independent councillor Frank Durcan voiced his concerns on the location as part of a longer contribution on the issue, where he read out a reply he had sent to an email he received on the proposal, saying: "I don't consider the building located on a freeway as a suitable and safe location for children going to school. Irrespective of what you or any other parent think, the common and most convenient drop off location will be outside Marsh House on a two way freeway, in a very dangerous location."
Sinn Féin councillor Therese Ruane, who voiced her support throughout for the need for the school in the town, also said she had issues about the location, but they had been resolved following discussions with those involved. "In terms of Marsh House, I had a number of concerns, one concern was a play area for students, I have spoken to the parents and principal and those fears have been allayed for me," she said. "The second thing is yes there is an issue around traffic and access to the school, but it can be worked out."
Although he supported the lease, Fianna Fail councillor Blackie Gavin did have his concerns and told the meeting: "At the outset I want to make it very clear that I've been asked by Deputy Lisa Chambers to support this Educate Together school at Marsh House. Now my own personal view, I'm not happy with the location, it's a crazy location. I think there is a big health and safety issue."
Fianna Fail councillor Martin McLoughlin told the meeting: "Time is of the essence now, we are in the middle of July and this school has to be opened by September to give those kids who need an education. Those kids depend on us as adults, those kids have no say, they depend on us to make the right decision to protect their education which will last for the rest of their lives, which commences in September. It's not an ideal situation, but it's the only one that is feasible in the time concerned."
Fine Gael's councillor Cyril Burke said: "I understand the people who are anxious to get the school up and running have certain time constraints and have fallen between two stools on a number of occasions. The end of August and start of September is coming up fast and we are in position now where we must make a decision for the students' sake." His party colleague Cllr Henry Kenny and Fianna Fail's Al McDonnell said if it was a short term basis they would support it.
The members voted to give the lease for four years and nine months to the Department of Education and Skills with a review after three years. Cllr Durcan asked that it be recorded that he did not support the lease of Marsh House to the school or to anybody.