Donegal’s newest school is just a few weeks from being completed. The keys to the new Finn Valley College in Stranorlar will be handed over on July 22nd bringing to the end a 30 struggle for a new school building.
The present school in Stranorlar opened in 1940 and the site for the new school at Drumboe Lower was bought in 1979.
The plans for the new school became a victim of the 1980s recession. The prosperity of the last decade brought the plans back on the agenda eight years ago and the go-ahead for the new building was finally given in 2010. Now with the country in the grips of another down turn, Finn Valley College is about to get its new building at last.
The excitement the new site generates in principal Frank Dooley, who joined the staff in 1974, is clearly visible as he takes the Donegal People’s Press/Donegal Democrat on a tour of the new college.
The location of the school gives excellent views from Lower Drumboe over to Knock, Edenmore and the Tyrone border. A roundabout on the site near the front gate will be the first in the Twin Towns, he says.
But the location has raised some concerns with locals and parents about the safety of the road from Meeting House Street up to the school where there is no footpath. Donegal County Council has drawn up plans and Mr. Dooley is confident that a footpath to the school will be in place for September.
“The road is very winding and steep and would need someone sort of realignment. There are an awful lot of houses above our school that have been there for some time and one would wonder why there was not a footpath there before our school.”
Playing fields and a basketball court are at the back of the school and the building also houses a 4,000 square metre gym.
Architects for the project are Coady Partners in Dublin who specialise in the design of education buildings and have worked on the Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
One of the features of the building is the amount of natural light let present, with light allowed in from the roof though the first floor to the ground floor.
The building is very much a school for the 21st century and will be probably the first in the country to use a internal integrated Information Communication Technology system which will see teachers using white boards and overhead digital projectors with HDMI, USB and VGA cabling all being fed to the classroom from a central communications room. The school will be computer intensive, Mr. Dooley said, with a total of 123 computers throughout the building. Each of the 23 classrooms will have at least two computers for students and the art room, for example, will have six.
Equipping the school alone will cost close to €1m.
Mr. Dooley has taken a hands on approach in the design of the school and sat on the interview panel for the architects and the other professionals. “We are very happy with the design team and more than happy with the architects.”
The work was carried out by Midland Construction company and Mr. Dooley and he is delighted with the quality of work.
What strikes the visitors is that two rooms, the art room and the caretakers office, which are usually buried in the bowels of school buildings are at the front close to the shopping centre style foyer. “The caretaker is a key member of staff so we thought it important that he has a commanding view.” The reception area will be open and welcoming, Frank says, more like a hotel and what is traditionally experienced in a school.
The ethos of the school has been expressed in the design of the building. There are three pastoral care offices and a multi-agency support room where staff can meet with outside agencies such as the HSE and the Garda. Mr. Dooley says the staff room will be a room for all staff and not just the teachers. That staff includes 10 classroom assistants.
The school has a whole department dedicated to children suffering from Autistic Spectrum Disorder and has 14 students who suffering from the disorder on the enrolment.
Mr. Dooley says the school received €150,000 to build a temporary classroom for ASD. “We thought that it was imprudent to spend it and we didn’t spend it but we don’t know now if we are going to get it.” A second home economics room has been set aside for a ASD room.
“The school will also be available for community groups and for adult and continuing education, like the current school, but I just want to thank for students and the parents for their commitment to our school over the years when we were struggling.
“We have a state of the art school for the 21st century, quiet clearly, and we are delighted to have it,” he said.
“So we are looking forward to meeting our present leaving certificate students and giving them their results in the third week of August. They will be the first group to be formally meeting in the new school.”