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Saturday 21 September 2019

Barntown gets a brand new school

Barntown NS principal Louisa O'Brien outside the new school. RIGHT: Niamh Doyle, chairperson parents council.
Barntown NS principal Louisa O'Brien outside the new school. RIGHT: Niamh Doyle, chairperson parents council.
Jessica and Sadhbh Neville.
Niamh Doyle chairperson parents council
Sixth class pupils inside one of the bright, state-of-the-art classrooms at Barntown NS.

By David Medcalf

Cutbacks. Austerity. Stealth taxes. The mood of the times is sombre, with money too tight to mention in most areas of public spending - but not when it comes to school building.

The big letters went up on the wall of one freshly erected structure last week spelling out the message that 'Scoil Mhuire' in Barntown has a fabulous new €3 million home.

The builders - Mythen Construction from Wellingtonbridge - are still on the premises but only to demolish the old school from the site and level the ground to provide playing fields.

Around the men in the hard hats, there are smiles on all the faces of just about everyone as they relish the novelty of having classes in energy efficient, spacious, airy accommodation.

Ask the pupils in Anne Stamp's sixth class to sum up in one word the building where they had their lessons up to the end of last term.

'Dump,' says one girl - and no one laughs. Further epithets follow: 'cramped', 'tiny', 'dull', 'dirty', disappointing' and most damning in such youthful eyes 'Old!'.

Parts of the abandoned, doomed campus next door date back to the 1950s, the patchwork extended in 1980, to be followed by the dreaded pre-fabs - nine of them.

Now Miss Stamp's charges are basking in the luxury of comfy chairs and the hands go up again with offers of adjectives for revised arrangements: 'modern', 'warm', 'clean', 'good-smelling' and best of all 'awesome'.

Their only regret is that they will only be around to enjoy the splendid facilities for just two terms before they move on to big school.

No smile is bigger or broader than that on the face of principal Louisa O'Brien who traces the campaign to bring education in Barntown up to scratch back to the 1990s.

'We wanted the very best for the children here and now we have it,' she chirps, delightedly pointing out features that her predecessors could only dream of.

There's the vastness of the sports hall with its immaculate timber floor. There's the lift to the second floor - yes, there is a second floor. There's the restful colour scheme of lilac, beige and grey/white.

Then there is the space and the warmth - wide corridors, snug sound proof doors, toilets in every classroom and a heating system which relies as much on the sun as on the gas tank.

The building, with its 16 full sized classroom and full set of smaller 'resource' rooms, which prompts all of this wide eyed wonderment is not the only such in the Republic.

Scoil Mhuire is a GRD - the initials stand for generic repeat design - where a template is issued and then modified to suit the particular requirements of any one site.

Already there are GRD's at Emo in Laois, Killeshin and Bennekerry in Carlow, Rathcormac in Cork and now the trend has arrived in County Wexford. Barntown took around nine months to build and another generic repeat design is expected to get under way in New Ross within a matter of months.

It seems that the bricks and mortar of education is beyond the snipping attention of the cutbacks, an investment in the future which defies recession.

Enniscorthy, for instance, has transferred its Gaelscoil to fresh premises on a green field site, while big money projects are in the pipeline for St. Senan's primary and for St Patrick's special school.

St Aidan's national school is already under going a radical re-fit which will represent the biggest capital investment in primary education outside Dublin in the history of the State.

The spending of these millions is based on demographics. The mandarins in the Department have gone through the figures in the census of population and worked out where the demand is.

Barntown principal Louisa O'Brien acknowledges that factors such as her school's wonderful achievements in the Rackard League and impressive pursuit of Green Flags counted for nothing in the eyes of the civil servants.

The new school is not reward for such excellence but rather an acknowledgement that families are moving out of Wexford town to make Barntown a suburb of the main centre of population.

Speaking to mothers dropping off their charges in the brand new car park produced a scattering of women whose own school days were passed at John's Road in town.

One grandfather was among the throng, former Scoil Mhuire principal Pat Kavanagh, delivering his grandson Darragh Molloy.

He succeeded Eugene Curtin in 1977 and had the privilege of being in command when the 'new school' - the extension to the three-chimneyed original - was commissioned in 1980.

He harbours a little nostalgia for what now faces the wrecking ball but shares the enthusiasm for the 21st century replacement.

Life has suddenly become easier, not only for teachers and the 270 pupils but also for receptionist Shannen Meade with her spacious office and caretaker Willie Carley, though he will have work to do looking after all the new trees.

Teacher Margaret Byrne delights in having a staff room big enough to take all the staff, at the same time.

'Now we are all under the one roof and that's a tremendous improvement. It is as it should be, To little people, this says you are important, you matter' muses the principal.

'Everyone's smiling. Everyone is standing six feet tall.'

Wexford People

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