Audits at five schools over fire-safety fears

Immediate safety audits at five schools are to be carried out by the Department of Education following revelations earlier this week that a “similarly built” school developed by the same firm was discovered to be a serious fire safety hazard.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan confirmed she is “currently arranging” the safety checks on the facilities built by Western Building Systems, which has constructed 26 schools for the State since 2008, after the Irish Examiner revealed chronic problems with the Rush and Lusk Educate Together National School, which was built at the height of the boom.

As detailed earlier this week, Western Building Systems, from Coalisland, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, was given a contract by the department to build the 200-pupil, north county Dublin school in 2008 under the Government’s rapid-build school programme.

The building was meant to be a temporary facility for the multi-denominational patron group Educate Together.

In early summer 2014, after being told the site was now a long-term location, the school’s board sought an architect’s report to address long-term leaks in the roof and windows, sound proofing on doors, and other matters in the building it had been using for six years.

This report, however, then found serious fire-safety problems, including a lack of cavity barriers in walls to prevent the spread of flames and the non-existence of special intumescent paint designed to protect steel girders in intense heat, among other matters.

That report and separate follow-up examinations from Dublin fire brigade and the department found that, because of deficiencies in the event of a blaze, students only had 20 minutes to evacuate instead of the standard 60 minutes.

As a result, the department was forced to spend €800,000 between June and September last year to address the serious problems at the school.

Responding to a series of follow-up questions from the Irish Examiner, the department confirmed in a detailed statement on Tuesday night that, between 2008 and this year, Western Building Systems built 26 schools for the State after winning public contracts.

This includes five schools “that were similarly designed” to the Rush and Lusk facility.

The department said that while it has “no indication of similar concerns arising in relation to those buildings” it is “currently” arranging for “a more detailed examination to be carried out” — 16 months after the Rush and Lusk issues emerged.

The department also confirmed that Western, which has yet to respond to requests for comment from this newspaper, has been awarded contracts to build two schools since the fire safety revelations at the single site, one in 2014 and one in 2015.

Speaking on Newstalk’s Lunchtime programme, Ms O’Sullivan confirmed the five schools built in a “similar” way to Rush and Lusk by Western Building Systems will “immediately” be the subject of department inspections.

“We are aware that there were five other schools that were built at the time in the same kind of process, so we are inspecting those schools.

“We have no reason to believe that problem exists there, but we are going to inspect them to make sure there isn’t that problem,” she said.

Asked if schools built at the height of the boom were “rushed up” due to population pressures, Ms O’ Sullivan said: “I think that’s true”, adding “we’ve had the same issue with blocks of apartments that were built at that time, as well”.

The minister said that during the boom “standards were not as good”, but that the Government has “moved to improve controls”.

Meanwhile, responding to Dáil questions over the separate Longboat Quay crisis in Dublin’s docklands, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that, while he didn’t know how many buildings built during the boom had fire safety issues, he expects more to emerge.

While Environment Minister Alan Kelly made similar remarks on Sunday, his department is understood to be opposed to suggestions from party colleague and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin to conduct a full-scale safety audit of all buildings built during the Celtic Tiger era.

School safety

The five schools to be re-examined are:

Ardgillan Community College, Balbriggan, Dublin, built in 2009; Scoil Naomh Lucais (previously Mulhuddart national school), Tyrrellstown, Dublin, 2008; Belmayne Educate Together / St Francis of Assisi, Dublin (adjoining campus), 2008; Greystones Educate Together / Gaelscoil na gCloch Liath, Dublin (adjoining campus), 2008; Mullingar Educate Together, Westmeath, 2008.

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