Thursday 19 October 2017

Construction firm behind schools built under 'rapid build' programme 'not responsible' for fire breaches

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

The construction company behind dozens of schools built under the Department of Education's "rapid build" programme in 2008 say they do not believe they are "responsible for issues that have presented themselves since the hand-overs."

Western Building Systems Ltd built more than two dozen schools around the country which now require fire audits.

Safety fears were raised this week for thousands of school children after the Department of Education announced it will carry out fire audits at the schools.

It comes as a fire safety audit found breaches of standards at five recently-built primary schools.

The buildings were meant to provide 60 minutes of fire retardation to allow them to be evacuated.

However, the audit found the actual construction meant the level of retardation would be less.

The schools are in Dublin, Wicklow, and Mullingar, and were built under a Rapid Build programme in 2008 by Western Building Systems.

Speaking to Independent.ie, a spokesperson for the company said "it has a distinguished record of delivering high quality buildings for more than 35 years throughout the UK and Ireland."

They added: "We take matters of health and safety very seriously indeed."

The statement continued; "We believe the buildings mentioned in the reports met all relevant fire safety and building regulations at that time on the basis that all of the required building and fire certifications of compliance and completion were issued by the architect and by the client without any note of the defects included in the recently published fire safety reports.

"It is important to note that both building and fire regulations have been updated since the buildings were handed over and that schools are responsible for maintenance programmes once a project has been delivered by the contractor.

"Works were also carried out by other contractors subsequent to our handover and we cannot be held responsible for breaches of regulations or defects that have arisen as a result of the actions of a third party.

"We do not believe Western Building Systems Ltd is responsible for issues that have presented themselves since the hand-overs, some of which were designed and built almost ten years ago.

"However, we have been working closely with the Department and other relevant authorities to assist with maintenance and upgrade works stemming from issues that have come to light since the handovers – including those created as a result of the actions of third parties."

They concluded: "The company will be making no further comment at this stage."

The schools involved are Powerstown ETNS in Dublin, Gaelscoil na gCloth Liath, Greystones, Mullingar Educate Together NS and Belmayne Educate Together NS and St Francis of Assisi National School, both in Belmayne in Dublin.

Of those schools where failings were found, a semi-permanent building in Powerstown, Dublin, has since been replaced with a new school building completed earlier this year.

The two schools in Belmayne were constructed as semi-permanent accommodation pending the construction of larger permanent build schools on another site in Belmayne.

These semi-permanent buildings are owned by the construction company and are leased by the department.

Construction of the permanent buildings is scheduled to commence shortly and will be completed in 2018.

However, both Greystones and Mullingar are permanent schools and are owned by the department.

The Greystones building was extended by the department in 2015 and the Mullingar building is currently being refurbished and extended.

The department said: "In summary, the findings of these reports indicated issues of insufficient compliance with some requirements of the fire safety certificates in relation to fire retardation in those buildings.

"The reports found that while the designs which underpinned the Fire Safety Certificates required that the buildings would provide 60 minutes of retardation to facilitate evacuation, the actual quality of construction indicated a level of retardation less than this."

The department said it was important to note "this is not a finding that the buildings are dangerous, it is a finding that the buildings do not comply with the detailed requirements of the Fire Safety Certificates".

Remedial work is due to be carried out shortly in the four remaining schools and the department said it has, and continues, to engage continuously with local fire officers.

The audits at each of the five schools were commissioned after an issue arose in respect of Rush/Lusk ETNS in October 2015, which was built by the same construction firm in 2008.

The department said remedial work at the two Belmayne schools is due to begin later this month, while work will begin in Mullingar ETNS in six weeks' time.

Remedial work will commence at Gaelscoil na nCloth Liath at the end of October.

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