Defective school built in ‘record’ 20 weeks instead of 60, High Court told

‘Breakneck speed’ created risk of shoddy work which Minister’s engineers had duty to monitor, judge hears

Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan in 2018. Photograph: Garrett White/Collins Photo Agency

Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan in 2018. Photograph: Garrett White/Collins Photo Agency

 

A school building that suffered from serious structural and fire safety defects was built in just 20 weeks when the usual time to do so is 60 weeks, the High Court has heard.

Co Tyrone builders, Western Building Systems Ltd (WBS), achieved the “record” 20-week construction time through a combination of hard work and driving subcontractors to ensure they completed Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, in time for the opening-of-term deadline in 2009, as required by the Minister for Education and Skills, the company’s counsel, John Trainor SC, told the court.

Having to deliver such a project at “breakneck speed” created the risk of shoddy works by contractors and subcontractors and it was in these circumstances that the Minister’s architects and structural engineers overseeing the project had a clear duty to monitor the work, counsel said, adding that WBS understood this would be the case.

The Minister is morally responsible for the cost of remediation works to the school because those representatives of the Minister, KSM Architects and Oppermann Associates engineers, failed to inspect and monitor the work as it was being carried out, said Mr Trainor. The court heard the cost of the repairs amounts to €11.5 million. However, Western Building Systems claims these works could have cost as little as €1.2 million.

The Minister is suing WBS over defects in Ardgillan Community College. Some of these have been agreed upon between experts, while others are in dispute, the court heard. Western denies the claims.

Rapid-build scheme

A number of third-party subcontractors and other companies brought into the action on the basis of seeking a contribution or indemnity against them are no longer in the case and those matters have been settled, the court heard.

Opening the case for the Minister, David McGrath SC said WBS built 42 schools under a build and design scheme introduced in 2007. This was at a time when there was an urgent need for school places in the Celtic tiger era and there was an expanding population that could not be accommodated in existing schools, he said.

When the external wall of a school in Edinburgh built under the rapid-build scheme collapsed due to inadequate ties to an internal wall, it led to inspections in Irish schools where a number of defects, including fire safety defects, were discovered.

One school, Ardgillan Community College , had to be closed, with students relocated and others accommodated in temporary accommodation.

Counsel said an extraordinary feature of Western Building Systems’ defence was that it denied there was an express implied term that the schools would be structurally safe. The idea that a company would take on the job of building 42 schools and not think it was responsible for making them structurally safe was “staggering”, counsel said.

Mr Trainor, for WBS, said the terms of the contract did not mention the words structurally safe but obviously this was an implied term within the specifications for the schools that they would comply with all requirements.

The case continues before Mr Justice Brian O’Moore.