Over 30 schools to be audited for fire-safety standards

Minister confirms facilities built by Western Building Systems are to be reviewed

 Minister for Education  Richard Bruton has said 31 schools constructed by Western Building Systems will be fire safety audited over the next six months. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said 31 schools constructed by Western Building Systems will be fire safety audited over the next six months. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Thirty-one schools constructed by Western Building Systems will be fire safety audited over the next six months, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said on Tuesday.

The firm constructed five “rapid-build” primary schools in 2008 that recent Department of Education audits found were non-compliant with fire-safety standards.

Speaking before the Oireachtas education committee on Tuesday, Mr Bruton said 31 other schools built by the contractor would now be examined.

“This isn’t based on a concern . . . we believed they have been built to the highest standards, but it’s just to be doubly sure.”

The initial audits, which were completed in July 2016 and the results of which were published at the start of September 2017, found less fire-retardant plasterboard was used in the five schools’ construction, and the buildings did not meet the required 60-minute evacuation time.

Any remaining remedial work to bring the five schools up to the legal fire-safety standard is expected to be completed by October of this year.

One of the schools, Powerstown Educate Together in Dublin, has demolished its previous building and moved into a new school building.

The other four schools were Gaelscoil na gCloch Liath, Greystones, Co Wicklow; Mullingar Educate Together in Co Westmeath; Belmayne Educate Together, and St Francis of Assisi National School, in Belmayne, north Dublin.

The construction of the school buildings had not been carried out to the specifications of fire-safety certificate requirements.

Speaking to the Oireachtas committee, Mr Bruton said the contractor had signed off on the certificates for the schools, and the Department of Education was taking legal advice from the State chief solicitor on the matter.

State contract

Since fire-safety concerns were first identified in one school constructed by Western Building Systems in 2015, the Northern Irish firm has secured a State contract to build modular housing in Poppintree, Ballymun, Dublin.

The firm was also recently approved as one of 12 contractors who will build 1,700 modular homes over the next four years.

Mr Bruton said the criteria under which public bodies could disallow a firm from applying for a contract were “very strict”.

Mr Bruton said an internal fire-safety committee would be set up in his department to overhaul how it handles fire-safety issues when they come to light.

Under the new protocol, a Department of Education fire officer will be informed of any issues as soon as they emerge, followed by the board of management of the school involved.

Previously, the department attempted to handle fire-safety problems with the contractor who constructed the relevant building before raising the issue with the school.

Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne said it was “disgraceful” that the department had withheld the results of the fire-safety audits of the five schools from the public for more than 12 months.

Deputy leader of the Green Party Catherine Martin said it was “despicable” that the schools themselves were kept in the dark about the problems, “instead of working with them to fix the issues”.