When Ardee Educate Together finally move to their long-awaited new school, they will be packing up and moving to a site a startling 17 times the size of their current location.
When they do, what staff and pupils will be keen to replicate will be the quaint, inclusive, close-knit feel they have cultivated at their small building on the Dundalk Road. It’s a feeling created by the people more so than the structure itself, but the small and cosy confines of the 1800s building lend itself to a snug, family-home feel.
Louth County Council have announced that the project to build a new a school has reached Part 8 planning stage. With a tender process to follow, it is hoped the school could relocate to its new site on the Kells Road at some point during the 2019/20 academic year.
The 144 pupils in the multi-denominationl, all-faith school are currently operating out of just one in-building classroom and a number of prefab units, some of which have been in use since the school first opened 16 years ago.
This year, a mixed 3rd and 4th class are situated in the main building, originally built in the 1800s. The constraints on space have for a long time restricted the school's growth. Now, the Principal admits they have almost reached capacity.
“We really need our new build. Every square inch of our current space is used up and people often remark on that when they visit,” Principal Ann Middleton told the Dundalk Democrat.
“It’s compact, it’s cosy,” she continued. “We’re comfortable, but we can’t grow anymore.” The school Principal, who has been there since 2005, is thrilled with the progress on what will be their new purpose built facility.
“It’s been a long time coming. We were at the site acquisition stage for a very long time,” Principal Middleton remarked.
“We’re absolutely delighted with the progress – the board of management, the parents, everybody is delighted with this. It’s gone to planning permission now – and that will probably be completed by April.”
“It’s a €5 million build. The tender process will probably take the remainder of the year. We hope to be in the new school at some point during the 2019/2020 year. It may not be September.”
The Department of Education approved plans for a new school building as far back as 2012. 144 pupils on site, seven more than last year, are spread out amongst five mainstream classes and two autism classes. All but around 20 pupils are being taught in prefabs, which have been added as the need has arisen over the years.
That necessity has increased steadily in that time. The school first opened in 2002, with just 23 pupils and two teachers. In celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2012, it had six teachers. Now, it has 11 and despite having reached a quota for a new teacher, they are restricted for the moment from adding another due to their compact location.
“The next classroom will be the converted staff room,” she explains. “That will take us up to the new build.” Asked whether they were approaching breaking point, Principal Middleton said, “Not just yet – reaching capacity and the new build being ready should dovetail quite nicely.”
“This is significant, it feels more real,” she said of the progress, which has been slow and steady over the years with buying a site from the HSE and planning changes stalling hopes of building work starting.
While just one of the mainstream classes is situated inside the small school building, the building also homes resource classrooms upstairs in cosy confines the children love.
Coupled with Ardee Community School’s own autism unit, the Educate Together’s two autism classes and sensory rooms means children with autism can complete both primary and secondary education in Ardee.
“We cater for children of all abilities – from special needs to gifted children. We are the only primary school in the town that is co-educational and we’re multi-denominational. We cater for all faiths and one.”
“Everybody knows everyone else and everyone gets along here. We have an atmosphere of friendliness here and the children are very good at including new children and embracing and looking after them.
“We’re hoping to take that atmosphere, and that cosiness, with us to the new building.”