Wednesday 18 September 2019

Builder accuses State of ‘distraction, secrecy’ in school safety probe

Education Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Education Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
The site of Greystones Community National School, which is being built by Western Building Systems

Allison Bray

A building firm at the centre of a school safety probe has hit back at the Department of Education – accusing it of “distraction and secrecy”.

Assessments carried out last year raised concern about the structural integrity of 42 schools built since 2003 by Co Tyrone-based Western Building Systems (WBS).

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The site of Greystones Community National School, which is being built by Western Building Systems

Initial inspections uncovered structural issues at 22 schools and remedial work has been carried out on them over the summer.

A number of these schools may not be able to open in time for the new term as final works are completed.

Education Minister Joe McHugh also confirmed this week that further remedial work needed to be carried out at 17 of the schools in time for the new term.

Last November, the Department of Education commissioned an independent review of the school building programme.

The procurement process for the organisation to carry out this work is at an advanced stage, according to a department spokesman.

But due to an impending commercial court case involving WBS and the department this autumn, the review is not expected to be completed before the end of the year, he added.

READ MORE: Schools to reopen late due to structural repairs

In the meantime, WBS issued a statement yesterday raising a number of questions about the assessment process and remedial work at the schools as well as the independent review process.

“Ten months later, we have little further understanding, nor have had input into this review process – no terms of reference, no independent chair or investigators, nor any international best practice guidance,” the statement said.

“We continue to engage with the department to better understand the nature and severity of the issues at these schools.

“However, we have serious concerns now over how long such an independent review will take.”

The company also accused the department of “distraction and secrecy”.

The Department of Education is not commenting further on the WBS claims.

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