On Rutland Street in the north-east inner-city on Monday, two construction workers in yellow hard hats were working on a concrete building known locally as the “School on Stilts”, at the back of the Rutland Street School.
Built back in the 1970s, the School on Stilts is set to be demolished in the coming weeks to make way for an extensive outdoor recreational space. The Rutland Street School itself, a red-and-brown brick building, 110 years old, is down for a full revamp too.
Once done, the development is supposed to host a community hub, providing a permanent home for a number of youth and community groups in the area. The plan also includes a creche, a Dublin City Council area office, the existing community garden, and the radio station Dublin City FM.
Councillors approved the plan in October 2019 for an extensive green space with trees, an outdoor amphitheatre facing onto a multi-games court, community gardens – including polytunnels for growing fruit and veg – an events terrace with a built-in barbecue, a cafe, a community hall, and offices.
“Obviously to get a new premises is massive, and the impact it can have on young people coming to our project as well as to the programmes you can offer,” says James O’Callaghan, manager of the Adventure Sports Project, a youth project in the north-east inner-city.
People working in the community sector have been told that the project was fully funded and was set to be completed next year, in 2021, O’Callaghan says.
But, earlier this month, the Rutland Street School featured on a list of capital projects to be part-funded by the sale of land owned by Dublin City Council – causing some to worry that the long-promised money to pay for this might not be fully secure.
Life Until Now
Rutland Street National School was built between 1910 and 1912, according to the Dublin City Architects Blog. “The school accommodated 2,000 pupils and it was the setting for the iconic recording Give Up Yer Aul Sins in the 1960s,” it says.
In the 1970s a new concrete building, the School on Stilts – so named because of its unusual raised design – was built at the back.
In the 1980s, the Adventure Sports Project started out in the basement of the Rutland Street School. Later, it moved into the School on Stilts, O’Callaghan says.
“We used to do hovercrafting and motorbike scrambling as an alternative to the joyriding in the area,” he says.
Like all good activities, insurance became an issue, so nowadays they tend to offer sports like hiking and kayaking, he says.
They evolved their services too, offering health-education programmes and personal development for kids, says O’Callaghan.
“It gets them off the street and into a safe environment, and they are mixing with the youth workers,” he says. “As they get to know you then you can get them into smaller groups and do more personal development work.”
The primary school moved out in 2008 but a creche and some community groups worked out of the Rutland Street School until September 2019.
Is There Funding?
Earlier this month, Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan gave a list to councillors of land that he said they would need to sell to fund recreational and capital projects in the city.
The Rutland Street School was on it. That suggested that the project is not fully funded.
O’Callaghan says that they moved out of the School on Stilts building in September 2019 on the understanding that the plans were fully funded and the refurbishment of the Rutland Street School should be complete by September 2021.
As well as projects needing homes, the rooftop garden, the sports facilities and the outdoor space are all badly needed, he says. “It can’t happen quick enough.”
At the January monthly council meeting, Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon said that he had understood that the redevelopment of the Rutland Street School was being funded by the central government as part of the regeneration of the north-east inner-city announced by then Taoiseach Enda Kenny with some fanfare back in 2016.
Earlier this week, Gannon said he has since been told that the council has to pay a substantial portion of the costs for the project to proceed.
The list that Keegan presented to councillors proposed selling a package of five sites in Chapelizod, Dolphin’s Barn, Ballymun and Ballymount to raise €12.2m – €7m of which would go towards the Rutland Street School project (and the rest to other capital projects).
“It was never part of any arrangement that the council would have to sell off their properties to fund the development of Rutland Street School,” Gannon says.
“There is very clearly a discrepancy in terms of what was promised and the actual outcome,” he says. “It just brings another lie to this ridiculous initiative that they carried out in the north inner-city, which it seems to me was done for the press releases.”
Gannon said he doesn’t think councillors from other areas of the city will be willing to sell off land to fund the project.
The Department of the Taoiseach said to direct all questions about the project to Dublin City Council.
Last week, a Dublin City Council spokesperson said that transforming the protected building into a community hub for the area, including all the landscaping works, will cost around €18 million. The council was always going to have to stump up some of that cash, they said.
“The bulk of the required finance will come from the Government’s Urban Regeneration Fund, which is a key part of … Project Ireland 2040,” said the council spokesperson.
“The project should be ready to commence in March/April of this year and we expect that the funding question will be resolved by that stage,” they said.
Groups on the Move
Until last September, the Adventure Sports Project and several other youth and community groups were based in the School on Stilts, says O’Callaghan.
But they were informed it was no longer safe to stay there. “Since then we, and all the other groups, had to go around and look for alternative premises,” he says.
His organisation managed to find a temporary premises for a small drop-in centre on Buckingham Street. They also got a house on the same street where they provide meals, he says.
That temporary drop-in centre is colourful and homely with soft couches, a pool table and a jukebox, but having a real community hub with plenty of outside space would be transformative, says O’Callaghan. “At the moment you can see we are very tight for space.”
The youth project regularly provide meals for the young people so more space should mean they can increase the number of people they feed too, says O’Callaghan.
It is also good that the youth and community groups will be together, he says, allowing integrated approaches. “There is a big holistic effort in terms of how we work with young people,” he says. “There are some brilliant people in this area.”
The north-east inner-city still needs more investment for community resources and community policing, he says.
The regeneration hasn’t resulted in increased funding for his project or for the others he is in close contact with, he says. “I think it is very slow.”
He has noticed the new trees planted in Summerhill as part of the regeneration, and that is something he would like to see a lot more of, he says. “The more buildings that get regenerated or refurbished the better.”
He points across the road from his temporary spot in Buckingham Street to a dilapidated building. “It’s like when the sun is shining you feel better. Well, if you are looking at buildings that are bleak and in bits and rundown, it’s depressing,” he says.
The redevelopment of the Rutland Street School “will make a massive impact in creating change”, he says.
He looks forward to running gardening projects with the young people, he says. “Some kids love that. Even hardened kids love being around flowers.”
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