School safety check finds 80% chance of wall falling out in storm force wind

Assessments to be carried out on 40 schools between now and the end of mid-term break

Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. Part of the school has been closed due to structural flaws. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. Part of the school has been closed due to structural flaws. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

An inspection of a school in north Dublin found there was an 80 per cent chance of an external wall falling outwards in the case of structural failure in storm force winds.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the finding was an example of the kind of potential risks facing students and staff in schools, which are the subject of structurally safety checks.

Three school buildings have been closed in recent days due to structural concerns, affecting about 1,300 students.

A structural assessment was carried out yesterday and today in Gaelscoil Teach Giúise in Firhouse, which was completed earlier this year. While the final analysis has yet to be completed, nothing has arisen from this assessment that would warrant the closure of the school. The school authorities have been fully informed.

However, Mr McHugh said it was likely that further closures will take place on foot of structural assessments of 40 schools over the coming days.

All the schools were built by the same developer, the Northern Ireland based firm Western Building Systems (WBS).

Western Building Systems released a statement on Wednesday saying it was engaging with the Department of Education.

“This morning, we wrote to the Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh TD seeking an urgent meeting with him to better understand the Department’s concerns and the process that is now underway,” the statement said.

“This afternoon, we were contacted by representatives of the Department inviting us to engage in the assessment process for Ardgillan Community College, Tyrelstown Educate Together National School and St Luke’s National School, Mulhuddart.

“These are the three schools that have been closed on the basis of structural concerns. We welcome this development as it allows for a better understanding of why these schools, previously deemed compliant by the Department, have now been closed. We note reports this evening that a similar assessment by the Department at another school is indicating that the school does not need to be closed.”

Earlier, Mr McHugh said decisions on whether to close further schools will be based on the outcome of safety checks.

In one school inspection, he said, officials concluded there was a 80 per cent chance of an external wall falling out and a 20 per cent chance of internal wall falling in during storm force winds.

The full list of 40 schools was published on Wednesday afternoon and officials now face a race against time to complete assessments before the end of the mid-term break on November 12th.

Mr McHugh said his department’s priority is to ensure all school buildings are safe and that, in cases where there are concerns, to source alternative accommodation.

Not all cases, he said, will require closure. While some may not have structural defects, others might be in a position to be made safe with interim solutions such as wall braces.

Tyrrelstown Educate Together national school and St Luke’s national school, which share a campus in west Dublin, were ordered to close following assessment inspections.

The schools, with a combined enrolment of 1,200 students, are among 40 schools built by Western Building Systems since 2008 which face structural checks over the next three weeks.

Last weekend, structural problems were discovered in Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. Nearly 100 transition year students have been told to stay at home this week as a result.

Problems were identified during a fire safety audit when the walls in two classrooms were opened up. A structural engineer found ties fixing the exterior and interior walls were absent or inadequate in places.

Most concern focuses on schools built under a fast-track “design and build” programme, which ran from late 2007 to 2013. This resulted in some schools being built within just three months.

The Department of Education is in the process of informing all schools affected of when they will face inspections.

Officials are in a race against time to try to complete the inspection before the resumption of school following the mid-term break.

In the Dáil on Tuesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was possible that some schools would have to be partially or entirely closed, while in others it might be possible to conclude temporary measures and complete the work over the summer holidays.

He also warned of potential legal action if it emerged there were further structural issues. “It does certainly appear to me that corners were cut back in the Celtic Tiger period when it comes to the building of some of these schools which is truly disgraceful in my view,” he said.

However a spokesman for Western Building Systems said on Tuesday its “integrity has never been questioned” until now.

“Each of our Department of Education projects, both before and since the amendments to building regulations in 2014, were subjected to inspections during construction. Every time, each was certified as meeting compliance standards,” the spokesman said.