Pupils at firetrap school for 6 years

More than 200 primary students were attending a school for six years before it was discovered it was a serious fire hazard, the Irish Examiner has learned.

The school in north Dublin was signed off on by the Fianna Fáil-led government of the time in 2008. However, a routine inspection in 2014 found it had so many fire safety concerns it could have collapsed during a blaze in just 20 minutes.

Once the defects were uncovered at the Rush and Lusk Educate Together national school, the Dublin Fire Brigade ordered the Department of Education to make immediate repairs costing more than €800,000 to make the building safe.

The school was built by Western Building Systems, from Coalisland, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in 2008 on foot of a Department of Education request, before being given to multi-denominational group Educate Together as a temporary home.

In early summer 2014, when the department formally told the group the facility was now its long-term location, the school’s board asked an architect to examine the site it had already been using for six years due to ongoing issues with leaks in windows and the roof, sound proofing on doors, and other matters.

The architect’s report also uncovered serious fire safety concerns, including:

  • The lack of cavity barriers within walls to prevent a fire from spreading;
  • Steel girders which were not coated with intumescent paint to protect the structure during intense heat;
  • The storage of combustible material in escape routes;
  • Inadequate ‘fire stopping’ on fire-resistant doors to prevent smoke seeping through during a blaze.

After discussions with the Department and the school’s board, Dublin fire brigade was asked to intervene.

Dublin Fire Brigade fire prevention officer Mary O’Brien told the school board in early June 2014 that the problems were “a matter of urgency” and that, if left unaddressed by the department — which had “the responsibility for the fire safety of the premises” as it was the “owner” — the standard 60-minute period to safely evacuate the facility during a fire would be cut to just 20 minutes.

After the school’s board contacted parents by letter on June 12, 2014, the Department of Education’s building section unit conducted its own examination. It subsequently spent more than €800,000 to repair and address the structural issues involved over a four-month period up to September 2014.

Educate Together declined to comment when contacted, as “it is the Department of Education that is responsible for overseeing the construction and maintenance of school buildings”, while Western Building Systems has yet to respond to a request for comment.

The department said its initial “on-site technical evaluation” led to it commissioning “an in-depth, detailed report which involved an extensive and invasive survey of the school building”. However, it has yet to provide this document.

Editorial: 12

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