Review of Celtic Tiger-era schools’ fire safety

The Department of Education has launched an immediate review of Celtic Tiger-era schools’ fire safety standards amid fears over the protections they would offer during a blaze.

Review of Celtic Tiger-era schools’ fire safety

The decision was taken as the department published five audits into schools built by a single firm during the economic boom, launched in response to a 2015 Irish Examiner investigation into a linked facility, which found they would burn down in less than 60 minutes.

In a detailed, nine-page statement yesterday, the department said it is seeking tenders from fire safety firms to immediately review a sample 25 schools due to fears over fire safety standards in the sector.

The reviews, specifically focussed on schools built during the Celtic Tiger boom, are to begin by mid-October with the first findings due by December.

While the department said the reviews followed the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it said they were already being sought as officials need “a clear picture” of any potential fire safety issues due to previous school concerns.

The comment relates to the publication of five separate audits last night into fire safety standards at schools in Dublin, Wicklow and Westmeath, conducted in 2015 in response to issues surrounding a linked sixth school first reported by the Irish Examiner.

In October 2015, this newspaper revealed the Rush and Lusk Educate Together national school was subject of serious concerns it would burn down in a blaze before pupils could be evacuated.

The concerns — raised in an internal 2014 independent architect’s report — were due to the building:

  • lacking cavity barriers to prevent flames spreading
  • not having special intumescent paint designed to protect steel girders in intense heat
  • having sub-standard fire safety doors and emergency lighting
  • and that the fire safety measures gave pupils just 20 minutes to evacuate instead of the 60 minutes standards require.

The department launched an immediate fire safety review of five other schools built during the 2008 rapid build programme by the same firm — Western Building Systems, which is based in Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

The schools are St Francis of Assisi national school in Belmayne, Dublin; Belmayne Educate Together national school [ETNS] in Dublin; Mullingar ETNS in Westmeath; Gaelscoil Clocha Liatha in Greystones, Wicklow; and Powerstown ETNS in Tyrrelstown, Dublin.

The reports said there was “insufficient compliance” with fire safety standards and that the buildings would withstand a blaze for “less than” 60 minutes.

The Department said while this does not mean the buildings are dangerous, they “do not comply” with existing fire safety rules.

The Department also said despite officials ordering Western to fix the fire issues in August 2016, a site check in April found “very little upgrade works”. The work is now being undertaken. Western did not immediately respond to queries last night.

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