The Department of Education has admitted it was forced to breach EU procurement rules over appointing a contractor to carry out remediation works to 22 schools found to have structural flaws last year.
The department said it had engaged a contractor for the Schools Remediation Programme without publishing the tender in theas required by an EU directive, as there were a number of schools which required “urgent, permanent intervention works”. It said such an approach was necessary because of the “extreme urgency brought about by events unforeseeable for the contracting authority”.
Arup, an international engineering firm, won the contract to oversee the remediation works on 22 schools built by Western Building Systems, a construction firm based in Coalisland, Co Tyrone.
Work began in mid-June, with most remediation due to be completed in advance of the schools reopening in September. Any remaining work will be taking place outside of school hours to avoid disruption to classes.
Outlining why it did not follow normal procurement rules, the department claimed the summer holidays only allowed for a narrow window of time to carry out repairs.
It claimed difficulties in trying to source alternative accommodation for classes in affected schools ruled out the option of carrying out repair works during the school term.
While temporary measures had ensured the safety of staff and students, the department said permanent remediation works had to be identified and carried out “as soon as possible when the schools are closed due to capacity constraints for alternative accommodation”.
“The 2019 summer holidays were identified as the next available opportunity when the particular schools would be vacated for a sufficient period to carry out the works,” the department said.
It claimed extensive planning had been required in order to ensure that the narrow timeframe available was maximised.
The department said there was “no possibility of complying with the time limits specified” under normal procurement rules.
The value of the contract has not been published, as the department said it was “confidential due to the ongoing legal process with respect to the Schools Remediation Programme”. It also said the final value of the contract could not be determined, as it was dependent on the result of investigative work at each individual school.
A department spokesperson said that, so far, it has had no contact from the European Commission about the tender. However, the award contract notice was only formally published on August 6.