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Just one out of 16 urgent school building projects has broken ground two years on

Former education minister John O'Dowd with Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness at the Strule campus in Omagh

JUST one of 16 high-priority building projects targeted at schools in "dire need of investment" has broken ground in the last two years.

In June 2014 then education minister John O'Dowd announced a £170m school building programme.

Nearly two and a half years later, work is underway at only one school, while four projects have not even made it to the design stage.

At the time, Mr O'Dowd told the assembly that the schools would be "benefiting today".

St Joseph's High School in Crossmaglen, Gaelscoil na gCrann in Omagh, St Killian's College in Carnlough and Lismore Comprehensive in Lurgan were among those told they would benefit.

The Department of Education has previously insisted that the schools "will be built", but cannot say exactly when.

Questions about ring-fenced funds were raised by parents in Twinbrook where two schools that merged were among those approved for a new building.

They had wanted the amalgamation postponed until a promised new building was completed.

It is hoped the first project to begin - Drumlins Integrated PS in Ballynahinch - will be open in time for the 2017/18 school year.

It has been based in temporary accommodation since its formation in 2004.

Work is also continuing on the massive Strule campus in Omagh, with one of the six schools already on site, but this was not included in Mr O'Dowd's 2014 announcement.

"Of the 16 projects announced in 2014, one is on site - Drumlins Integrated Primary School in Ballynahinch," a Department of Education spokeswoman said.

"The contractor was appointed on April 22 2016 with a contract value in excess of £2.5m for this 7-classbase primary school. Work commenced on site on July 25 2016 and at present the project is on target for completion by end of August 2017."

She added that 11 projects were now business case approved and work was "at various stages of design".

"The other four remain in planning and work continues to identify/agree site options, negotiate land purchases and develop robust business cases," she said.

Scoil an Droichid in south Belfast was told just last week it would be in its new building by September 2018.

"It is really exciting and this is the first time we have real hope. We thought the process would have been far quicker, given our concerns and that the accommodation we are in now is horrendous," principal Fionnguala McCotter said.

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