Ruairi Quinn refused fire-trap school repairs

Former education minister Ruairi Quinn told school authorities that a 200-pupil facility built during the boom needed only “minor” repairs, a year before it was declared a severe fire safety hazard.

The former Labour leader told Rush and Lusk Educate Together National School in Dublin it did not need a replacement facility in May 2013 — 12 months before it emerged the building could collapse in a blaze in just 20 minutes.

Correspondence obtained by the Irish Examiner shows that after repeated concerns raised about the facility, one of a number of identical units built for the Department of Education under the rapid schools programme, the department’s building division visited it on December 10, 2012. Despite school calls for a detailed architect’s examination of the building — in use since 2008 — the officials said the only apparent problems related to a leaky roof, a lack of sound-proofed doors and floors, and other matters.

On the back of these conclusions, then-education minister Mr Quinn wrote to the school’s board chairperson Brendan de Bruijn on May 19, 2013, through local TD and current Children’s Minister Dr James Reilly, to inform him there was no need for extensive work or a location change as only issues of “a relatively minor nature” were identified.

While making extra funding available for sound-proofing, work on exit doors, draughty windows, and leaks, the then-minister said “the department doesn’t intend to revisit” the location.

A year later, in early summer 2014, the school, which has 200 pupils under the age of 12, sought its own independent architect’s report to clarify exactly what repairs were needed.

As reported by the Irish Examiner, this independent report uncovered serious fire safety concerns, which had existed since 2008, including a lack of cavity barriers within walls to prevent fire from spreading; steel girders not coated with intumescent fire-retardant paint to protect the structure during intense heat; and inadequate ‘fire stopping’ on fire-resistant doors.

A subsequent Dublin Fire Brigade investigation in June 2014 led its fire prevention officer Mary O’Brien to conclude the issues were “a matter of urgency” as the building would collapse in a blaze within 20 minutes — despite an hour being needed to evacuate.

After a subsequent Department of Education external architect’s report in July 2014 repeated the concerns, the department spent €800,000 to fire-proof immediately the facility which a year earlier was considered to have only “relatively minor” problems.

Mr Quinn told the Irish Examiner the fire safety problems were “serious matters subsequently found to be a threat to life” but that the initial concerns were “vague” and he “wasn’t aware” of the full extent of the repair work needed, before the May 2013 letter.

He declined to comment when asked how department officials failed to identify the issues in December 2012, as he did not have all of the information to hand, but said it is “necessary we now need to be satisfied the rapid schools were built with the proper specifications” and that “a question has to be raised”.

The Rush and Lusk facility is one of 25 built by Western Building Systems of Coalisland, Co Tyrone for the department since 2008 under the rapid schools programme, which saw hundreds of schools built quickly to address population demands.

[tmigcap=Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan]janOsullivanSerious_large.jpg[/timgcap]

Two of the 25 building contracts were awarded to the company after the Rush and Lusk issues emerged, while five “similarly” developed units it built at the same time are now undergoing “immediate” department examination — 16 months after the problems were uncovered.

Asked if schools built in the boom were “rushed up” after this newspaper revealed the situation earlier this month, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan said “I think that’s true”, adding: “We’ve had the same issue with blocks of apartments.”

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