County Limerick school reopens following stand-off

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

STUDENTS of Kilfinane National School returned to their desks this Friday morning following a seven-hour stand-off at the school on Thursday.

STUDENTS of Kilfinane National School returned to their desks this Friday morning following a seven-hour stand-off at the school on Thursday.

The controversy arose after subcontractors stripped the €1.7m school of doors and other fittings because they claimed they had not been paid for work they carried out.

“The school is opened this morning. It was close to 11 o’clock when the staff left last night. The subcontractors had just left. We finished tidying up a little bit and left then. It’s business as usual this morning,” said Siobhan O’Flynn, school principal.

“There is a little bit more tidying up to do. There was some artwork removed and we have to locate it and put it back up, if we can – if it’s in good condition,” she added.

Workers who claimed they were owed up to €140,000 collectively by the school builder - DPB Construction, moved into Kilfinane National School shortly after 2.30pm on Thursday and turned off the power, took doors off the hinges and removed other furniture fittings before loading them into the seven vans parked in the yard.

Parents collecting their children refused to allow the subcontractors leave the grounds of the school by standing in front of the workers’ vans and parking vehicles in their way.

The board of management of Scoil Fhionain was granted a High Court injunction by Mr Justice Michael Peart, instructing the subcontractors to leave the school grounds and not to take any property.

The notice was served on the tradesmen by school staff as parents and children watched on, in the rain from outside the school gates.

Handing out copies of the High Court injunction, school principal Siobhan O’Flynn said: “ I have never, ever in my life had to do this kind of thing before, to which one subcontractor replied: “Neither have we”.

“This is just not the way we want to do things and I’m sure it’s the same with you but lets hope we can come to some kind of sensible decision,” added Ms O’Flynn.

Parent, Sonia Sheehan, who has two sons, Ciaran and Adam, attending the 153-student school described the situation as “despicable”.

“We have worked so hard to get the school and to have this happen is very disheartening,” she said.

Student Rachel Fitzgerald had just returned home when she heard about the commotion back at her school. “It’s just horrible,” said the 11-year-old having returned to the school grounds.

“It’s a gorgeous school with inside toilets and interactive white boards and stuff like that. They shouldn’t have gone in and taken them like that. They could have done something about it instead of doing something like that,” she added.

Her mother, Shirley, recalled how the subcontractors began arriving into the town at around 2.30pm on Thursday.

“Vans came into the car park and lads got out with drills and even at that stage the penny didn’t drop as to what it was about. I’m going to stay as long as it takes, even overnight. It’s pity that it came to this – for the lads that had to come in and take the stuff, you would feel for them too,” she said.

Subcontractor Seamus Cusack of Dovetail Fitted Furniture in Murroe says he is owed €19,500 from the main contractor.

“We had no other choice we had to get our money back some way. He, Declan Breen, wasn’t answering his phone for the last 8-10 weeks. He was paid a big payment in September from the Department of Education and never distributed money out,” he claimed.

The action taken, he said, was not taken lightly.

“It’s totally against my morals to do this especially in a school building where there are kids involved but were we left with no option,” he added.

Shortly after 9pm, tradesmen agreed with principal, Siobhan O’Flynn, to reinstall all fittings after they received guarantees that they would be paid at least 60 per cent of the money owed.

The state-of-the art school opened in the town last September marking what locals thought was the final chapter in a long, drawn out saga for the people of Kilfinane who have been waiting over a decade for a new school building, due to lack of funding.

The former school building which was in use up until the summer holidays was more than 100 years old. It had only outside toilet facilities and was forced to close in 2005 due to a rat infestation.

The new school design is unique to the Munster region in that it has been built to reach “passive house” standard. This involves high levels of insulation, energy efficiency, carbon dioxide sensors in the rooms and an enveloped, or airtight, build.

There was no comment from DPB construction last night.