Assessment of 42 schools at risk of structural defects near end
Minister not ruling out litigation concerning schools built by Western Building Systems
Scaffolding at Tyrrelstown Educate Together school in Dublin, which was closed due to concerns over “significant structural issues”. Photograph: Cate McCurry/PA
As initial assessments are set to conclude on the 42 schools at the centre of concerns over structural deficiencies on Tuesday, Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the department is considering legal action.
Speaking following a briefing by Department of Education officials in Tullamore, Co Offaly, on Monday, Mr McHugh said “by close of business tomorrow we will have all initial assessments complete. That puts us in a very good position in terms of analysing that data and obviously to continue the communication with the principals and the school communities.”
Although the situation is evolving, Mr McHugh insisted that the information would be relayed to the school authorities and parents as quickly as possible. “Whatever will be needed will be done thoroughly and the solutions already are being put in place for the schools that may have to partially close,” he explained.
In places where full assessments have been completed students will be able to return to education, if not their old classrooms. While hopeful that similar measures could be in place if needed elsewhere, Mr McHugh was keen to point out that the situation is evolving. “Whatever needs to be done in terms of making those schools safe that is my first priority,” he said.
“Yes, there is always the question of accountability when it comes to cost and there will be, if necessary, if it means litigation that is obviously a road we are examining as well,” he said.
According to the latest update from the department, six schools had been cleared to reopen fully after the mid-term break on November 5th, with no repairs needed. They are: Luttrellstown Community College; Gaelscoil Shliabh Rua, Dublin 18; Broombridge Educate Together National School; Scoil Choilm, Porterstown; Gaelscoil Thulach na nÓg, Dunboyne; and Gaelscoil Teach Giúise, Firhouse.
Another two Dublin schools, Castlemills Education Centre in Balbriggan and Scoil Chaitlín Maude in Tallaght, will also reopen but will require intervention in the form of a protective fence and protective decking after structural issues were found in the exterior. This work will be completed during the mid-term break, said the department.
Issues with the internal and external structures were found in a further three Dublin schools constructed by Western Building Systems (WBS). These are Tyrrelstown Educate Together National School, St Luke’s National School in Tyrrelstown and Gaelscoil Eiscir Riada, Lucan. Repair work was to be completed before the mid-term break to allow the ground floors of the schools to open.
The department said on Monday that good progress has been made in finding interim accommodation for affected students in these schools
Parts of Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan will also remain closed, affecting about 200 students. Arrangements have been put in place by Dublin/Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board to accommodate these students elsewhere, said the department.
WBS said it welcomed the ongoing progress in the department’s assessment of the 42 schools identified.
Statement from WBS
“We welcome that another group of schools examined today passed the assessment, as has been the case with most schools assessed so far. With half the schools now assessed, the number of temporary closures remains at two (as originally announced by the department last Tuesday).
“We appreciate fully that this is an important matter, particularly for pupils, parents and teachers at the schools involved. In accordance with our contractual obligations, we are engaging constructively with the department. We remain available to meet with the Minister for Education.
“We are committed to better understanding why schools previously certified as substantially complete and suitable for occupation and which also had defects certificates subsequently issued by the department’s advisors are now being assessed by the department.
In relation to department inspections during construction, Mr McHugh said there was a difference between certificate of completion, in which the department had a role, and compliance. “The whole way through a project, be it in the private sector or the public sector, compliance and certification of compliance is self-certification. And that is a very, very clear distinction,” said Mr McHugh.
He said his officials have met with the contractors but he had declined an invitation. “Yes, there is a request out there but to be honest . . . my focus is on ensuring we get those schools open and where we have to put in interim solutions we will do that to ensure there is continuity of education.”