PLAYING facilities at Athea National School could be at risk, unless erosion of the riverbank just metres away can be halted.
At present, there are only about five metres of riverbank between the rear of the school’s basketball court and the river Gale. But a section of this bank has already been undercut and is now only a ledge and it is only a matter of time before it collapses into the river.
Meantime, on the other side of the river, a huge bank of gravel and stone deposits has built up in what locals say was the original course of the river. “On average, around 12 feet of ground has been lost over the last five years,” school principal Margaret Watters told the Limerick Leader.
Their concern, she said, was that the school’s astroturf play area and running track and their basketball court, built through local contributions at a cost of €90,000, are at risk. “This is the only outdoor play area the children have,” she said. “That is why we are watching so carefully.”
The school and schoolyard were flooded in the summer of 2009, when Newcastle West and Athea were among the worst areas affected by flooding in West Limerick. The Griffin home, next door to the school was also badly affected by that flood, with water coming up the long garden and covering the ground floor to the height of two to three steps of the stairs. The family, Kieran Griffin explained, had to evacuate the house for three months.
But, Mr Griffin explained, following that incident, the OPW came and dredged the river, clearing out the build-up of stones and gravel. This was done for two years running, he said but nothing has been done for the past four years.
The river was, at one time, 35 feet out from the rear of the school and their home, he maintained, and two trees, once growing there are now gone. He believes that shoring up the bank with gabions, or large baskets of boulders, is the way to go.
Mrs Watters also agrees that urgent remedial action must be taken. “It would be a cost-saving exercise to get the remedial work done now,” she said. “If this goes on without any action taking place, we could see part of our basketball court and the draining of the astroturf affected. It has repercussions for the school.”
Cllr Seamus Browne raised the issue at last week’s meeting of the Newcastle West Municipal District but says he was disappointed to be told the river was not an OPW river and to contact the Department of Education and Skills.
“I don’t think that is the solution,” he said. But, he told the Limerick Leader, he intends contacting the Department to get their response and he also believes the OPW has a role to play. Action needs to be taken urgently, he argued. “It needs to be done this summer,” he said.