Wednesday 23 October 2019

Fixing safety risks at Western Building Systems' schools to drag in to next year

Vigilant: Education Minister Joe McHugh
Vigilant: Education Minister Joe McHugh
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Work to tackle serious structural and health and safety concerns at 40 schools will not be completed with a "permanent solution" until next year, according to the Education Minister Joe McHugh.

Construction is set to commence this summer at 23 schools which need the most urgent attention. Mr McHugh said these schools need work carried out on internal and external parts of their buildings. The remaining schools will be attended to in 2020, he added.

The schools were all constructed by the Northern building company Western Building Systems.

Concern arose about the structural integrity of the schools last year when initial assessments were carried out on 42 schools built since 2003. Initial inspections uncovered structural issues at 22 schools.

These included questions about an inadequate number of cavity wall ties in place at specified points to link the outer and inner walls (leafs) at some schools.

Precautionary measures were put in place to make sure they could be occupied safely until a permanent solution could be put in place without interfering with school time.

Another school, Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, was partially shut and remains closed. The extent of the work needed here is expected to take longer than the others to remedy but Mr McHugh said he expects the schools with the most serious defects to be addressed later this year.

A second phase of detailed investigations at affected schools began in January and has been completed on eight sites. These are set to be completed by early May.

"This is about being vigilant and that processes that are fit for purpose to ensure that lessons are learned where they are needed," Mr McHugh said yesterday.

Less serious structural issues at another 17 schools, where precautionary measures were not deemed necessary during the initial phase of inspections, are expected to be addressed in 2020.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said: "With finite time to carry out the implementation works, it is not logistically possible to remediate all of the schools in 2019. The schools with precautionary measures in place are being prioritised."

Irish Independent

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