School building contractor says it is being used as ‘scapegoat’

Western Building Systems has called for report deadline into school building programme

Builders carrying out remedial work on November 5th at St Luke’s National School in Tyrrelstown, Dublin, which was built by Northern Ireland building firm Western Building Systems. File photograph: Colin Keegan

Builders carrying out remedial work on November 5th at St Luke’s National School in Tyrrelstown, Dublin, which was built by Northern Ireland building firm Western Building Systems. File photograph: Colin Keegan

 

The contractor behind the 42 schools which were found to have structural defects has said it is being used as a “scapegoat”.

Western Building Systems (WBS), a Tyrone-based company, has called on the Department of Education to set a deadline for the publication of an independent report into the school building programme.

WBS outlined a number of questions it wants the department to answer in the report, including why the schools were previously certified by the department’s professional assessors, but later deemed to have defects.

The company also requested a date for the establishment of a nationwide facilities management programme to ensure school building standards are met and maintained post-construction.

‘Serious concerns’

WBS said it continues to engage with the department to “better understand the nature and severity of the issues” at the schools, but that it has “serious concerns” over how long an independent review will take.

“Until we get independent, expert answers to these and other questions, the damage done to the schools building programme throughout this process may be irrevocable,” a spokeswoman for WBS said. “Instead of decisiveness and openness, we have distraction and secrecy”

“The approach appears to publicly scapegoat WBS and hide behind the cloak of potential legal prejudice when it is beneficial,” the spokeswoman added.

WBS said that it will write to the Minister for Education and Skills seeking a “firm deadline” for the publication of the independent report”.

It added: “As previously stated, WBS are committed to working with the department to resolve the issues on all schools identified.”

On Wednesday, it was revealed that an additional 17 schools were affected by structural flaws, on top of the 22 buildings that were identified last year.

Engineers have identified a need for permanent structural remediation work to be carried out on these newly-identified premises but temporary solutions will be put in place in the interim.

The permanent remediation works are expected to be carried out during the summer periods in 2020 and 2021.

The newly-identified defects are “very similar” to those in the other schools and relate to issues such as fire safety and wall ties.

Structural remediation work has been carried out in 14 of the 22 schools over the last six to seven weeks, allowing the precautionary measures that were in place to be removed as the work is completed.

Structural remediation work in the remaining eight of these 22 schools is due to commence later this year.

Part of Ardgillan Community College was closed down as a result of the safety concerns and remains closed. A decision on the design solution for the building is due to be finalised in September.

The department has said it continues to liaise with the Chief State Solicitor’s Office and the Attorney General’s office over an ongoing legal process concerning the defects. The department has started High Court legal proceedings against WBS.

The department declined to comment in response to the contractor’s statement, but said the Minister commissioned an independent review of current use and practices for the delivery of school buildings internationally.

“The procurement process for the organisation to carry out this work is at an advanced stage. The Minister will announce the outcome of that process when completed. The intention is that the organisation’s report will be published in Quarter 4 this year,” a spokesman for the department said.