Further Education and Training
Ronan Murray (Athlone Training Centre Manager), Minister Simon Harris, Antoinine Healy (Director of Further Education ad LWETB) and Liz Lavery (Chief Executive of Longford Westmeath Education & Training Board)

Further Education and Training Centre announced for Athlone

Athlone Training Centre is now in line for a multi million euro investment following the announcement of the development of a further education and training centre on the site.

The announcement of the thousand-square-metre development was given the go ahead at Athlone Training College by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris.

The Athlone development is one of 13 projects across the country that are being funded under the Strategic Infrastructure Upgrade Fund.

“It’s a recognition of the really good stuff happening in further education training. I’m so proud of all that happens in further education and training but we haven’t been investing in the facilities,” Minister Harris explained.

“As a result of that, you’ve had people in some cases working in substandard buildings, you’ve had learners in substandard buildings, but you’ve also had a very higgledy piggledy scenario where, in a town like Athlone you can have one course on in a building up here and something else down here. What we’re trying to do here is really create further education training colleges in towns.”

Minister Harris noted that some of the buildings attached to the Athlone Training Centre are sub-par, with some experiencing flooding in the past or being a flood risk, as well as the fact that accommodation has “very substandard”.

“So today we’re giving the go ahead with solas and obviously the Longford-Westmeath ETB to press go on the development. What that means now is they can go ahead and appoint a design team and seek planning permission and get on with it,” he said.

The development will bring significant benefits to the town, not only to those who aspire to gain a third level education, but also to employers who will benefit from having such an education provider in Athlone.

“I think the benefits are really significant. Firstly, at a very basic level, I think having a very large, visible, fit-for-purpose campus gets people in the town and the community and wider afield saying ‘hang on a second, what’s this here?’ And I think it creates a greater awareness of further education and training, which I think is so essential,” said Minister Harris.

“It would also provide enough physical space to actually look at the range of courses provided in further education and training in Athlone, in Westmeath, and also see about expanding them. I think for employers, it’s going to be really important if they invest in Athlone or if they have a business in Athlone that they invest in an education provider in Athlone – coupled of course with the fact that you now have a Technological University here in the town as well,” he added, referring to the upgrade of Athlone Institute of Technology to university status last year. 

“So if you take the fact that, over the course of the last year, the Technological University of the Shannon made Athlone a university town, you now have a university campus and now a further education and training campus being developed. 

“People in Athlone can access university education, further education, education on your doorstep. Businesses know they can invest in Athlone and have access to education facilities for upskilling, reskilling and finding workers as well.

“I think Athlone, as a town, has so much to be proud of. Even its geographic location at the centre of our country – I think Athlone is so well placed to attract investment, but also to try and ensure that people can access education in their own community.”

Minister Harrist admitted he is “really conscious” of the costs that people are facing if they’re having to commute or if they’re seeking accommodation.

“The more you can actually bring education, particularly third level education into the regions, into large provincial towns like Athlone, I think the better for balanced regional development,” he said.

Further Education and Training Director at LWETV Antoinine Healy was thrilled with the announcement made by Minister Harris today.

“It’s a significant capital investment in the Athlone Training Centre, which is part of the Longford Westmeath Education and Training Board,” she said.

“It really means that we will have an opportunity now to expand our services, our buildings here in Garrycastle and provide more to all the learners who actually wish to pursue further education and training.

“It’s wonderful that we’re seeing such an investment in the centre and we’re also ambitious for a number of our other locations throughout Longford and Westmeath. So today is a really good day for us and we’re delighted.”

Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council Aengus O’Rourke started his first job at the age of 16 in the Athlone Training Centre and the announcement gave him the opportunity to step back into the “inner sanctum” of the building again.

“I have to say, it really does fill me with a lot of enthusiasm and hope for the future to see the activities that are here in terms of providing that vital pipeline of educated craftspeople, educated people across the board in so many disciplines to train here,” he said.

“And now for the Minister to announce another enhancement of this facility today is just fantastic news.”

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First published in the Irish Examiner

Written by Jessica Thompson