This year, 2016, the Grangegorman Development Agency (GDA) celebrates its 10th anniversary. The Agency officially came into being in 2006 in a small office in Blackhall Place, Dublin 7. It was run by one member of staff, who had a table, a chair and a telephone as her resources. Today the GDA has a core staff of 13 and has turned a significant amount of the Grangegorman Masterplan into reality.
The Grangegorman Project is actually closer to 20 years old however. The GDA was established following years of planning, lobbying, researching and hard work by a variety of people.
Management in DIT had been in discussions for some time around the need for a consolidated campus for the college. It was recognised that to be able to deliver the best service to its students it needed to have everything in one place. This would allow for much greater co-ordination of complementary subjects and would save a lot of money being spent on the duplication of services across many campuses.
With the changes that were taking place in mental health care in Ireland throughout the 1980s and 1990s very large institutions, such as St. Brendan’s Hospital in Grangegorman, were beginning to empty out. Many of the empty buildings that were left were not being used by the Health Board and subsequently fell into disrepair. With its vast amount of unused space, close proximity to the city centre and the fact that it was in public ownership, the Grangegorman site was to become the preferred (if not only) option for DIT.
The communities surrounding the Grangegorman site are diverse and varied. Located in the north inner city means that areas with some of the highest levels of deprivation in the state sit side by side with quite affluent areas and vibrant communities. Even in 2006 many of the people who lived around the Grangegorman site were people who had a long association with it. Many were former staff or family of staff and some were former patients. Many of those who grew up in the area would have played as children in the grounds or played sports for some of the teams associated with the hospital.
In 1999 the Government made the decision that the Department of Education and Skills would acquire 27 of the 29.4 hectares in in Grangegorman in order to re-locate DIT to one campus there. The remaining 2.4 hectares would remain in the ownership of the HSE for development of new healthcare facilities. In 2001 a strategic review was commissioned by the Government to examine the issues associated with development of Grangegorman. Some of the findings and recommendations of the review were;
• The Grangegorman site had the capacity to accommodate DIT’s requirements along with those of the Eastern Area Health Board and the Northern Area Health Board as well as some other small public projects
• An imaginative site plan was needed for the area as well as necessary re-zoning and outline planning permission for the site
• A development Agency should be set up under an act of the Oireachtas
In April 2002 the Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, gave the official go ahead to the Grangegorman Project and over the following 3 years the details of the Act were worked out. This included much debate in the Dáil, the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Health.
Through the hard work of several local politicians and community activists the Grangegorman Development Agency Act went on to include specific details as to how the community would be an equal stakeholder in the project and how they were to be included in the formal structures of the GDA. The Act went so far as to draw a line around what was to be defined as the “Grangegorman Neighbourhood”.
Since 2006 the GDA has built a state of the art new Mental Health Care facility, located 1,000 DIT students in refurbished protected buildings, laid most of the underground services needed for the new quarter, developed brand new public realm, sports facilities, a new playground, an extensive public art programme, a temporary primary school, a new research building for DIT, a local employment charter and a new primary care centre which is nearly complete.
The Agency is now in its fourth term Board and Consultative Group and has developed a number of key sub groups namely, The Grangegorman Labour and Learning Forum, the Public Art Working Group and the Community Liaison Committee all of which make a contribution to the delivery of the project.
All of this is still just the beginning of this exciting and important project and it is hoped that in 10 years from now, when the GDA turns 20, there will be a lot more to celebrate.