The prospect of a new secondary school for St Johns Parish moved closer as Councillor David FitzGerald has proposed a radical plan to re-zone part of the Old Kilkenny Mart site.
Following consultation with community representatives, the need for a new secondary community college based in the Castlecomer road area has been identified as a vital objective for the City development plan.
With the City plan currently under review, the opportunity to build a new school to serve St Johns parish emerged as a viable use for the vacant site. The landmark former Mart site is currently zoned as an extension of the retail core of the City.
“The current City retail strategy and development plan is a Celtic Tiger relic” says former Mayor, FitzGerald. With large numbers of young people in St Johns Parish, there are no non-fee paying secondary school on the north eastern side of the Nore. Currently, all secondary school children must cross the City bridges to access free secondary education in Kilkenny.
Cllr FitzGerald proposes that the former Mart site is at an ideal, accessible location in the City for pedestrians, cyclists and school buses. There has been a huge increase in the population in St Johns Parish with new estates on the Castlecomer, Hebron, Johnswell and Old Golf Links road.
Business representatives maintain that any significant increase in new retail space will undermine existing businesses and cost jobs. The proposal to build a large shopping centre to compete against the City Centre (High street) and McDonagh junction is not realistic in the current climate, says FitzGerald.
“Kilkenny City retailers are struggling to survive the recession. There has been a two fold increase in the area of retail floor space in Kilkenny and its environs in the last 10 years”. Business representatives have confirmed that despite a better than expected Christmas, many shops are struggling to maintain employment and survive the recession.
In recent years, due to the shortage of secondary school places in Kilkenny City, a number of students living in the City have had to attend secondary education in Castlecomer, Ballyhale, Thomastown and Callan. This daily commute puts pressure on families both personally and financially.
The need for a new City secondary school has been made by various individuals and groups including Educate together and the St Canices NS action committee. The proposal has been supported across Johns Parish with leading members in the community highlighting the neglect of Secondary education facilities in the parish for decades. Local sources commented that “the Mart site is ideally located within the parish and could serve the new young population in the eastern environs. This proposal would reduce pressure on students, parents and relieve the traffic on Greens bridge and Johns bridge”.
The City authorities will present a draft of the new development plan and the retail strategy to Councillors later this Spring. FitzGerald believes that the City needs to confront the issues around this site to protect the children of the parish and the core of Kilkenny in the long term.