Saturday 19 October 2019

Building firm faces 19 legal actions over schools closed on safety fears

Court told temporary work to one building will cost more than €1m

Education Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Frank McGrath
Education Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Frank McGrath

Katherine Donnelly and Tim Healy

Education Minister Joe McHugh has initiated 19 High Court actions against the building firm Western Building Systems (WBS), which was at the centre of a controversy over school safety last year.

One case before Mr Justice Robert Haughton yesterday involved alleged defects in a €5m "rapid build" school which had to be closed for a part of a term last year to allow temporary remedial works costing €1m to be carried out.

The Tyrrelstown Educate Together National School in west Dublin was one of the schools closed last autumn following safety inspections carried out on behalf of the Department of Education.

Last December, the department brought proceedings in the Commercial Court, a division of the High Court, over alleged defects in Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan, north Dublin, against WBS of Coalisland, Co Tyrone which designed and built it.

Yesterday, similar proceedings against WBS in relation to Tyrellstown were also entered into the fast track commercial list by Mr Justice Haughton

The department says the 525 Tyrrelstown pupils had to be moved to alternative accommodation from the mid-term break in October until after the Christmas holidays while temporary remedial works were carried out.

Remedial works have already cost €950,000 and are likely to exceed €1m, it says. The final cost of permanent works is not yet known, it says.

Tyrrellstown was designed and built under a 2011 Rapid Build School Delivery contract for just over €5m.

Eamonn Murtagh, principal officer in the department, said the building did not comply with fire certificate and/or building regulations and/or with the department's build requirements.

He said a consulting engineers' report found issues with the strength and fixity of the walls panels in the building. This gave rise to a risk of a collapse/"fall out" of the outer masonry wall panel and the "fall in" of timber infill panels into the classrooms.

In its action, the department seeks damages for breach of contract, negligence and/or misrepresentation by WBS arising from the design and/or construction of the school.

Mr Justice Haughton, after admitting the case to the Commercial Court on consent between the parties, adjourned the matter to July.

The High Court list currently shows that the minister has initiated 19 cases against the company since last September.

WBS has consistently maintained that each of 42 schools assessed by the department last autumn was "previously certified for completion as being free from defects and suitable for use by the Department and its employed professionals".

Irish Independent

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