A new autism unit for Summerhill NS, being built by volunteers after it was turned down by the Department of Education, “should be finished by the weekend”.
“It’s been unbelieveably fast. We only started it on July 2,” said Martin Reilly of the Athlone Chernobyl Aid Project (ACAP ), a group which has brought dozens of tradesmen and volunteers to renovate orphanages in Belarus - the poorest country in Europe - over the last 12 years. This year the ACAP decided to focus on an Irish charity.
“The idea had been in my head for a few years, and I mentioned it to the headmaster [John O’Neill]. I spoke to Billy Duffy and Noel Lyons [fellow Project members] and now here it is,” said Martin.
“We had seven electricians on site yesterday [Tuesday, August 7]. We’ll be slabbing today and skimming tomorrow,” he added.
Martin Reilly told how the ACAP and the school had managed to raise an impressive total of €20,000 for the three-room extension.
“If you went through the Department [of Education] it would probably cost €170-180,000. We’ll have it finished for €20,000,” he stated proudly.
“All the members of ACAP are top, top tradesmen...the first fix wiring is already in and they worked flat out,” he explained.
“We wanted it kitted out and finished by September 1. Basically all that’s left is plastering and decorating,” he added.
The ACAP is adding a sensory room, a life skills room, and a one-to-one room for the profoundly autistic in the area and for neighbouring counties.
However, he made sure credit was paid to all the firms, businesses, and individuals who gave up their time, skills, money, and supplies to make this achievement possible. He mentioned the staff at Covidien, DB Cycles, and the staff and patrons of the Left Bank bars who helped raise half of the capital through a charity cycle.
“Really, without their help this wouldn’t have gone ahead,” said Billy Duffy of the ACAP.
He then told how the committee had been discussing the details of the project after deciding upon it, and were a little stumped as to how they would dig out the foundations.
“One local man from Ballydangan, Billy Nevin, no better man. He just happened to be in the hotel at the time. He had a 12-tonne digger, and there he was on Saturday morning to dig it out,” said Billy.
“That’s the sort of community spirit we’re getting.”
For the start of the school year, Summerhill NS will be able to cater for six autistic children, with a special needs assistant assigned to each.