Sunday 19 August 2018

Schools will face random selection audits amid fire safety concerns

Principals are expected to be unundated with calls from concerned parents today. Stock photo
Principals are expected to be unundated with calls from concerned parents today. Stock photo

Laura Lynott

Twenty-five schools to be audited for fire safety checks across the country will be randomly selected and include constructions by several developers, the Irish Independent has learned.

Remedial work to address fire safety concerns at four primary schools in Dublin, Wicklow and Westmeath, are currently under way or are soon to begin and are expected to be completed by October.

Audits of the schools, carried out in January and April 2016, found fire safety breaches including a failure to meet a required 60-minute fire resistance level, gaps around fire doors, no clear exit signs, missing smoke seals and escape routes not being protected.

A fifth school, Powerstown Educate Together in Tyrrelstown, Dublin, has been moved to another building, but works on the other four schools have started or are about to begin.

The Department of Education said it had been in "constant contact" with the schools and it confirmed that the 25 schools now to be investigated would be chosen randomly on the basis they'd been built in the past 20 years.

It was confirmed to the Irish Independent last night that it was therefore the case that schools will have been built by different developers, but the list would include Western Building Systems (WBS) - which built the currently affected schools.

However, parents feel they are being kept in the dark about any potential risks associated with the fire safety issues. Principals are expected to be inundated with calls from concerned parents today.

Despite the safety breaches found, the department has insisted the buildings present no danger to children and the necessary updates will take place swiftly.

A spokesman from Educate Together said the schools "welcomed" the publication of a tender notice on the Government's e-tender site to commission fire safety audits for schools built under the Rapid Build Programme. But he added: "Despite numerous requests, the fire safety consultants' reports have not been made available to Educate Together, or to the boards of management of the schools. The publication of these reports and greater transparency from the department on such matters is welcome."

The four schools were audited after Rush/Lusk Educate Together National School was found to have several fire safety concerns. Extensive remedial work was carried out on that school in 2014.

Educate Together said it has "received assurances from the DES that their technical assessments have not indicated safety concerns at the schools and that any remedial work indicated has now been carried out".

WBS said it has been working with the department to upgrade the buildings. It added that "the buildings mentioned in the reports met all relevant fire safety and building regulations at that time" of construction. It did not believe it was "responsible for issues that have presented themselves since the handovers, some of which were designed and built almost 10 years ago".

The four affected schools, St Francis of Assisi Primary School and Belmayne Educate Together School, both in Belmayne, Co Dublin; Mullingar Educate Together, Co Westmeath; and Gaelscoil na gCloch Liath in Greystones, Co Wicklow, open for the start of the new school year today despite the concerns.

The department said WBS had carried out the most urgent and important repairs last August, but fire safety consultants found this wasn't the case.

WBS also built several hospitals, among them an acute psychiatric inpatient unit at Beaumont Hospital, and the Stroke Clinic at St James's Hospital, and an oncology unit at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. The HSE said it will be "examining" the issue but it didn't "anticipate any problems".

Irish Independent

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