Fears over school project delays after Carillion collapse

School principals waiting to move into new buildings concerned at “indefinite” delays

 

School principals waiting to move their schools into finished buildings are now facing “indefinite” delays before getting the keys, due to the collapse of British construction firm Carillion.

Carillion is a key member of a consortium which is delivering a number of school projects in Ireland under a State-funded public private partnership (PPP) programme.

Gearóid Ó Ciaráin, principal of Coláiste Ráithín secondary school in Bray, Co Wicklow, said their new building is completed. “We were told we’d get the keys last Monday, now it’s indefinite,” he said.

Currently students in the school are moving between an older building and temporary prefabs from one class to the next. Mr Ó Ciaráin said he was concerned about the amount of time the liquidation process of Carillion and finding a replacement firm would take.

The school had also hired new teachers in anticipation of being in the new building this year.

“Now we’re stuck,” Mr Ó Ciaráin said. Carillion’s sub-contractor working on a number of the schools was Sammons, a Kildare-based construction group.

Under the deal, this private group was due to take over the maintenance of the buildings for 25 years and schools will not be able to move into new buildings until a replacement firm to undertake the maintenance commitments can be found.

One of the new school projects at Loreto College secondary school in Wexford is also near completion.

Substandard

The school principal Billy O’Shea, said the new building is “virtually finished” pending the submission of certifications and other minor matters. Mr O’Shea said the existing building students are in is “substandard” and the school was “very keen to move to the new building”.

“We don’t want a situation where this drags on,” he said.

Under the PPP contract the remaining parties in the consortium are responsible for the maintenance commitments and finishing the projects, and they will not be paid for the construction work until they do. So far only around €4 million of an agreed €100 million fee for the six projects has been paid over by the State.

It is understood one of the other main parties in the consortium is a Dutch finance firm, so the task of finding a replacement construction party to the deal may take some time.

The other projects now on hold include school buildings at St Philomena’s Primary School, Bray; Eureka Secondary School, Kells; Tyndall College, Carlow; and a property at Carlow Institute of Further Education.

Orla Hegarty, an architecture lecturer at University College Dublin, said the Carillion example highlighted problems with public private partnerships.

“The concern is with outsourcing these very big and complex contracts is it isn’t outsourcing the risk, because if anything goes wrong the problem comes back to you,” she said.

Ms Hegarty added the process of finding a replacement firm to take Carillion’s place in the deal could take months and would be a “complete mess.”