Builders of Dublin firetrap school still tendering

The builders behind a 200-child primary school, found six years after it opened to have serious fire safety problems which could have seen it collapse during a blaze within 20 minutes, is still tendering and winning Government contracts.

The Department of Education confirmed last night that Western Building Systems is continuing to apply for the State deals despite a plethora of issues surrounding the Rush and Lusk Educate Together national school which was built almost a decade ago.

As revealed in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, the facility in north county Dublin was developed by the firm – from Coalisland, Dungannon, Co Tyrone – in 2008 under the department’s rapid build school scheme, which was used to build schools quickly to cater for surging population demand.

Educate Together was due to only use the facility as a temporary measure.

However, in 2014 it was told by the department the site which had been used to teach more than 200 children since 2008 was now the school’s long-term home.

After being told of the news, Educate Together sought an independent architect’s report to examine ongoing issues with leak, sound proofing on doors and other matters.

This report instead found that the facility had so many fire safety concernsthat it could collapse during a blaze within 20 minutes, instead of the standard 60-minute evacuation target.

As a direct result of the revelation and equally damning conclusions from Dublin fire brigade safety officer Mary O Brien, the department conducted its own examination of the school. Between June and September 2014 it spent over €800,000 in taxpayers’ money to address the concerns.

Despite the controversy over the serious safety problems, a department spokesperson last night told the Irish Examiner that Western Building Systems is continuing to apply for State contracts.

The spokesperson said this is “in accordance with EU procurement regulations” which means the firm is “not precluded from tendering for building projects”.

While the department has provided three separate independent architect reports into the Rush and Lusk facility, neither Western Building Systems nor the architect involved in the development had responded to ongoing requests for comment at the time of going to press.

Meanwhile, despite saying in an initial statement that a “system of audits in the case of schools” where “project work” has taken place has not found “significant” fire safety issues meaning the “possible closure” of a facility should be considered, the department has backtracked on the position.

A spokesperson last night confirmed “these audits do not include extensive or invasive investigation of building fabric and construction” of buildings examined and instead verifies that “proper and complete project documentation and appropriate certification are available for examination”.

The spokesperson said the department’s “design guidelines” were “significantly expanded” in late 2008 to “provide more detailed clarification to design and build contractors in relation to design requirements”.

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