Tuesday 19 February 2019

Gaelscoil to hear result of inspection 'in coming days'

Greystones school one of 42 built by Western Building Systems inspected. Principal hopes school not affected, writes Mary Fogarty

Gaelscoil na gCloch Liath was inspected on Saturday, with the school due to hear the results in the coming days
Gaelscoil na gCloch Liath was inspected on Saturday, with the school due to hear the results in the coming days
The site of Greystones Community National School, which is being built by Western Building Systems

Principal of Gaelscoil na gCloch Liath Rita Ní Thuathail is hopeful that a structural assessment of the school will not lead to a closure.

This follows the closure last week of two Dublin schools on a list of 42 nationwide which were built by Western Building Systems between 2009 and 2013. The same company is currently building a new premises for Greystones Community National School.

The inspection took place last Saturday.

'The engineer will prepare a report and submit it to that department, with feedback to follow in the coming days as to whether works are needed,' said the Gaelscoil principal. 'The information we have is that our building is of a different design to those closed. There is no indication at this stage of any structural faults.'

Crews undertook a camera survey of the external walls, along with internal openings within the building.

Ms Ní Thuatháil said that fire safety works have been done, with new fire certificates from the chief fire officer pending.

A damning fire safety report emerged last year, after the school had sought sight of it for two years. Issues included emergency lighting, and a required flooring upgrade to meet a 60-minute fire resistant standard.

Department of Education officials were meeting Western Building Systems (WBS) last week following school closures.

The department said it is working to 'provide every support and advice necessary' to the other schools constructed by WBS.

Three teams of contractors started assessments on Thursday, to continue throughout the mid-term break.

'It is our understanding that the assessment of school buildings initiated by the Department of Education and Skills is focussed on two issues - fire safety and building structures,' said Western Building Systems in a statement.

'We understand from public reports that the department's assessment involves a range of schools, including 42 schools which we either fully or partially constructed.

'It is important, not least for pupils, parents and teachers, that accurate information is firmly established as to the process now under way.

'In respect of the 30 fire safety inspections carried out by the department, we have only received reports for 20 schools, responding to each in full.

'We continue to await receipt of the 10 outstanding reports. On the building structures, we have only received a draft report for one school,' the company said in its statement.

Deputy Stephen Donnelly praised what he said was a quick response by Gaelscoil na gCloth Liath to the construction scandal.

'The principal Rita Ní Thuathail deserves recognition for her decision to communicate so rapidly with the families of children under her care,' he said.

'News only emerged on Monday that the builder responsible for Greystones Gaelscoil was allegedly responsible for serious structural problems elsewhere.

'The very next day a letter was sent to all parents and guardians informing them of the situation here in Wicklow. It was very reassuring for everyone to know that the school is taking the issue so seriously and dealing with it as a matter of urgency.'

Cllr Jennifer Whitmore said that the inspections must be concluded before the end of the mid-term break.

'The Department of Education is very belatedly getting to grips with safety issues related to schools built by Western Building Systems using a steel frame and timber in-fill construction method,' she said.

'But as far back as three years ago, fire safety concerns were raised at Rush-Lusk Educate Together primary school, which was built by Western Building Systems and is on the list of 42 schools published by the Department that are being examined for structural safety.

'Even now, the Department is just not treating the issue with the urgency needed. I am aware that the Department has written to the principals of affected schools today, saying that next week's mid-term break will be a key opportunity to get many of the structural assessments completed.

'For anxious parents and teachers alike, this is just not good enough. All affected schools need to know with certainty that these assessments will be carried out within the coming week, so that they will be in a position to advise pupils, parents and teachers exactly where they stand.'

Cllr Whitmore said that when the announcement was made that the tender for the new primary school went to Western Buildings, she was acutely aware that this was the same builders that had built the gaelscoil.

'In September, the Board of Management of the CNS, of which I am chair, met with liaisons of both the Department of Education and KSNPM, who are project managing the build. We specifically sought assurances on fire safety as a result of what had been reported in relation to Western Build Systems,' she said.

'We were informed that new measures had been implemented which had not applied on previous builds. These included a full-time, on-site Clerk of Works appointed by the Department for compliance with Department requirements in terms of both fire safety and structural issues. KSNPM also had their own independent fire consultant who visited the site regularly as well as another fire consultant who was employed by Western Building Systems. This consultant must sign off that all fire regulations are met.'

She said that the board has been in contact with their liaisons seeking further clarifications as to what ramifications recent structural reports might have for Greystones Community School, with the foundations yet to be laid.

'Having spoken to both liaisons, they referred to the responsibility of the Clerk of Works to oversee structural regulations and to ensure that these are met.

'As a result of the recent revelations, we have now sought written clarification from the DES in terms of oversight as to what quality assurance and control safeguards are in place to ensure there will not be any structural issues in our building and also if there is likely to be any delay to our build timeframe. We have also requested a meeting with the Department to go through these issues.'

'I believe that because of the spotlight that is now on these school builds, that the most stringent safety standards will apply. We will, as a board, continue to liaise with the Department and parents to ensure that any concerns that are raised are addressed.'

Bray People