By Paul Walsh
A submission has been made to Meath County Council, which is proposing a third level institute be located in Dunboyne.
Although plans are at a very early stage, the proposal has been raised as part of the Meath Development Plan according to Fine Gael Councillor Maria Murphy. "We are doing the Development Plan at the minute and there is talk of third level accommodation at Pace," she said. "We have submissions in as part of the Development Plan from Dundalk IT and DCU supporting the location of an education facility at Pace, which would be third level."
The county managers report on the Draft Meath County Development Plan 2013-2019 makes a specific reference to third level education development opportunities in Dunboyne. "Potential exists to develop a synergy between the area of Dunboyne and Maynooth Environs in relation to a complementary Life Science/SMART Park campus in partnership and collaboration with established third level institutions. Meath County Council is satisfied that the Development Plan adopts an appropriate approach to the future development of this area."
Currently Dunboyne's third level education needs are served by the Dunboyne College of Further Education which has been operating for almost a decade. It offers FETAC approved courses in diverse subjects such as sound engineering, journalism, animal care and nursing. The college is a PLC that is operated by the Meath VEC.
College Director, Martin Lonergan gave some background on the strides the college has made since its inception. "We are in a situation were we had 1800 applications this year. We ended up taking in 435 students, so that's how far we have travelled. The day the Leaving Certificate came out on 16th August, 40 people applied to us. We had no places for them as we were full by May but people still applied," he said.
The college will be making a presentation to councillors at their local area meeting in November and at that they will set out the growth of their institution along with their need for new accommodation as Mr. Lonergan explains. "We are in temporary accommodation in Dunboyne Industrial Estate but it is not suitable for purpose. Meath is under utilised as a place to provide PLC courses and there is a huge demand with all the new housing developments which have been built in the county," he said.
"We are looking for a site. Now the "Cow Park" in Dunboyne is 30 acres held in trust by the Dunboyne Sports Trust. They have approached us and we have approached them in an ad-hoc way and if they would give us the site for free we would build our college on it. What they would get out of it would be electricity, water and a building on their land. They could then do fundraising and build on to the site, dressing rooms or pitches. So, that's where that is and we will be talking to the council about how they can support this."
Mr Lonergan is also keen to keep his options open in relation to the future location of their expanded college and he is fully aware of the discussions taken place around the Pace site.
"We have been approached about locating our facility at Pace as the developer wants to put a high level science park there. They are looking at us as being one of the anchor tenants. This is very much just on paper at the moment but the plan would be to build an integrated college which would become the hub of the science park," he said.
"The college would provide all the courses it's currently providing and maybe much more. It would be a four or five storey building with one level being all incubation units for small science companies. Then another level would be maybe board rooms with the rest of the levels being lecture halls. So, a small start-up company could rent some space and use some students who would get work experience. They could also have conferences in the building which we would host. If DCU or Dundalk IT were coming on board they would put their facility in our facility. They may not use it all the time, but they could send some post-grads to us every couple of months to do research. They would be doing research for a science company based in the park using our facilities."
Although the Pace plan is both innovative and exciting, Mr Lonergan is realistic about what can be achieved in the current economic environment in his assessment of both potential sites.
"The main stumbling block for Pace is that they don't have an anchor tenant or a road going into the place. We have no agreement with the "Cow Park" people and we haven't turned any sod, so we are open to suggestions. If tomorrow they announced a big science company was coming to the site in Pace and they had planning permission from Meath County Council, we would very much be going back talking to them. At the moment they don't have the infrastructure there but the "Cow Park" site is right beside the train station and all the water and electricity is coming up the main road into Dunboyne. So, to do something at the "Cow Path" would be much cheaper than something brand new in Pace. But we still have two irons in the fire at the moment," he added.