Saturday, February 28, 2009

School for the visually impaired are forced to sell part of their land to pay for renovations

THE Drumcondra-based St Joseph’s Centre for the Visually Impaired has been forced to sell part of its land to fund a much-needed refurbishment project after Government cash promises failed to materialise.

A new National Centre for the Visually Impaired was earmarked for funding as part of the 2002 Programme for Government.

But after seven years of fruitless waiting, officials at St Joseph’s have finally run out of patience and have decided to try and raise the money by selling part of their land.

Northside People has learned that the centre is now preparing to lodge an application for planning permission with Dublin City Council as part of the move to sell off over seven acres of its 25-acre site.

Brian Allen, CEO of St Joseph’s, explained why the centre is vital to the future of the facility.
“The centre was purpose built in the 19th century; it’s institutional and a totally unsuitable environment for the children,” he told Northside People .

“More and more we are working with people with multiple disabilities with specific health-care requirements. Very often these barriers are now health driven, for example the need for walkers or toilet training. Our current classroom space and learning facilities don’t provide adequately for the children and are hampering the education process.

“We need new premises so we can provide the right environment for learning – it’s our job to ensure these children reach their full potential. The new centre will more adequately provide the visually impaired of Ireland with appropriate accommodation for the current and future delivery of services.”
He added: “The new centre will also mean that we can aid parents in their assessment of a child from as young as six-months.”

A planning application for the 7.5-acre plot includes the proposal to build 356 residential units, a crèche, a public park and the new Centre for the Visually Impaired.

The Rosminian Fathers, who own the site, have commissioned Coady Architects to work on the project and it is expected that the application will be lodged with the council in the coming weeks.
St Joseph’s currently caters for 110 children with visual impairment on a pre-school, primary, secondary and vocational level.

The centre also currently operates the National Large Print and Braille Production Centre as well as providing training for those in direct contact with people who suffer from visual impairment in Ireland.

Local councillor Aodhan O’Riordain (Lab) launched a scathing attack on the Department of Environment for the situation St Joseph’s now finds itself in.

“Despite the fact that St Joseph's serves some of the most vulnerable children in the State, the department has repeatedly frustrated the management board's attempts to redevelop the schools and they have now been forced to turn to the property market in order to provide the kind of service they feel their students deserve,” he said.

“It is an absolute scandal that some of the most needy children in the country cannot have their needs directly met by the State.

“What message does it send to the families of those suffering from a visual impairment when this excellent educational facility is forced to gamble in the property market to secure the future of the centre?”

The school now finds itself in the unenviable position of trying to sell land in a depressed market. Two years ago developers would have been falling over themselves trying to secure the valuable site, but it could now take a considerable length of time before an acceptable offer is secured.


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