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Westport’s Old Convent gets €8 million funding


FUNDING BOOST  It is hoped work will be begin on the large site at the bottom on Altamont Street as soon as as possible.

Edwin McGreal

THE confirmation yesterday (Monday) of over €8 million in funding for a long-sought development at the old Westport Convent on Altamont Street is a ‘fabulous development’ for the town.
That’s according to local TD Michael Ring, who was speaking after his successor as Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys, announced the funding.   
The funding is for a new co-located Municipal District Library and facilities for community groups on the grounds of the old Convent of Mercy on Altamont Street.
However, the funding announced does not include the provision of new civic offices for the Westport area, as was initially sought.
The proposed works summary for the project are as follows: restoration, reuse and extension of the former St Patrick’s National School (former Convent school adjacent to Mill Road, Westport) as a new co-located Municipal District Library and multi-use community facility as well as the restoration of the Convent annex buildings and greenhouse to provide facilities for community groups.
“It will be a massive development for the whole of Altamont Street and will revitalise that part of the town,” Deputy Ring told The Mayo News. “It’s exactly why I set up the Rural Regeneration Scheme when I was Minister for Rural and Community Development.
“In fact I would urge Mayo County Council when they are looking for sites for different uses to consider empty buildings and spaces in the centre of towns that can be revitalised and avail of funding like this rather than going out to a greenfield site on the edge of a town. Developments like this can breathe new life into towns,” he added.
The Rural Regeneration Scheme was something set-up by Deputy Ring when he was Minister for Rural and Community Development and he says projects like this are exactly what he had in mind.
“The Rural Regeneration Scheme is €1 billion over ten years and I fought hard for that funding when I was in cabinet.
“A wide number of projects in Mayo have benefited from the Rural Regeneration Scheme including the Connacht GAA Centre in Bekan, Ballintubber Abbey, Ballinglen Arts Centre, Ballinrobe town developments, digital hubs in Belmullet, Achill, Tourmakeady and Eachleim and the Clew Bay Greenway.
“When I was minister we allocated funding around the country for libraries that would also be community hubs and more accessible for the community in terms of opening hours and services. Included was an allocation of €1.1 million for a new library in Westport. The announcement today (Monday) is a further €8,279,000 in addition to that €1.1 million,” he said.
He said an application for new civic offices on the site did not qualify under the Rural Regeneration Scheme.
“The Rural Regeneration Scheme is not for civic offices so those plans cannot be included in this application. However I am very confident the level of funding needed for the civic offices on that site can be put in place separately,” he said.
Deputy Ring said Westport Social Services, who are located in the area, should be incorporated into the development as should Holy Trinity NS who he said ‘were given a commitment for a standalone site at the old convent’.
He added that the current library, at St Mary’s Crescent, ‘will be another building available to the public in the town and I am sure the state will have some plans for it’ when the new library is opened.
He also said that plans approved by local councillors for a memorial recognising the history of the site of the old convent ‘should be incorporated into the plans because there needs to be recognition of the history of the site’.
The old convent was, at various stages, an industrial school, a Magdalene Laundry and an orphanage.
Deputy Ring said he expects Mayo County Council to ‘get the project off the ground in the coming weeks’.