Multi-Million School Build
STAFF and pupils at Omagh Integrated Primary School were celebrating yesterday (Tuesday) after the Minister for Education, John O’Dowd, officially gave the ‘green light’ to plans for a long-awaited multi-million pound new school build away from its existing site just off the Dublin Road.
The welcome news means that the 23-year-old school can now proceed to the next stage of its design and build programme that will enable the school to obtain outlying planning permission for the new site on the Crevenagh Road, located directly adjacent to Drumragh Integrated College. Whilst no definitive date has yet been given for when funding for the new build – estimated at around £6 million – will become available, it is understood that it could be within a two year timeframe.
The go-ahead for Omagh Integrated PS was one of 22 school building projects granted approval to proceed by the Minister on Tuesday morning as part of a potential £220 million capital build programme. Among the list of other schools given the ministerial seal of approval are Strabane Academy and Gaelscoil Ui Dhochartaigh in Strabane. Speaking about the overall investment, the Minister said: “In June last year, I set out my Department’s capital investment plans, which at that time included an investment of over £133 million in 18 new build projects. I am now announcing a further 22 projects to be advanced in planning representing a substantial potential investment of some £220million. “The projects are aimed at either addressing serious or substandard accommodation inadequacies, or at effecting agreed rationalisation of the schools estate. I am pleased to announce that Omagh Integrated Primary School will be one of the projects that can now proceed in planning.”
The Minister highlighted that the authorisation to proceed with construction on each project would be based on the level of capital funding availability at that time and all necessary approvals being obtained.
Mr O’Dowd also announced that the School Enhancement Programme, aimed at refurbishing or extending existing schools and worth up to £40million over the next two years, was being opened to applications.
He said: “I have previously made it clear that the capital budget available meant we had to do more with the existing estate. That is why I established the Schools Enhancement Programme and I am pleased that I can now open the programme for applications. The available funding will be prioritised on projects aimed at improving existing facilities and enabling structural changes needed across the estate.” Meanwhile, in the run-up to his announcement, the minister also re-affirmed his commitment to the planned Lisanelly Shared Educational Campus in Omagh which, he said, remained ‘a priority’ for the Department, as he outlined a new build replacement project proposal for Arvalee School and Rersource Centre on the Lisanelly site.
Expressing his delight at the news on his school, the principal of Omagh Integrated PS, Mr Nigel Cairns, said the latest development would enable an ‘integrated school estate’ from nursery and primary right up to post-primary and post-16 within Omagh. Stating that the staff and pupils were elated by the minister’s seal of approval, which he described as ‘a long time coming’, Mr Cairns, told the Tyrone Constitution: “The minister’s announcement today (Tuesday) now progresses us to the next stage of the design and build programme, which will hopefully enable us to attain outlying planning permission for the site. It really allows us to move forward with what an actual design for the new build might look like and progresses us to the desired position of when the funding becomes available we will be ready to roll. “The decision to allow us to proceed with the new build at its location on the Crevenagh Road, adjacent to Drumragh Integrated College, will enable a full integrated school estate in Omagh from nursery and primary to post-primary and post-16. We are absolutely delighted with this, the staff are almost in disbelief after waiting for so long for this day. The school is now in its 23rd year and has been operating from temporary mobiles for all of that time, so it always aspired to a permanent plan, but we did so with a cohesive plan that would not only enable the school the grow, but also integrated education as a whole.
“It is just great news for the entire school community and the children truly deserve it.” Meanwhile, also welcoming the minister’s announcement, West Tyrone UUP MLA, Ross Hussey, said: “I am delighted to hear that Omagh Integrated Primary is on the list for a new school build, as well as Strabane Academy. “This is fantastic news for West Tyrone and will be a huge boost to the local economy, helping also to bolster employment within the construction trade. I’m glad to see Minister O’Dowd delivering on this and that it I’m certain that it will be of a great benefit, both in terms of education and employment, across the district.” Also expressing delight at the news Sinn Fein West Tyrone MLA, Declan McAleer, said: “I have visited the school on a number of occasions along with our MP and the former Education Minister Caitriona Ruane. The learning environment and the effort made by staff in less than satisfactory accommodation is hugely impressive. Omagh Integrated PS are in need of a new build and today’s announcement marks an important milestone towards getting the new school building which they thoroughly deserve.” SDLP MLA for West Tyrone, Joe Byrne, meanwhile, said the announcement would not only be welcomed by the school themselves, but ‘will be welcomed by the construction industry in the area also’. “I congratulate the pupils, staff and governors of Omagh Integrated Primary School as well as Strabane Academy and Gaelscoil Ui Dhochartaigh PS in Strabane. This is a welcome boost for these schools and I wish them well with their new builds,” he said.