School builder linked to non-compliant fire audits not excluded

Public body has to prove ‘deficiencies’ in a firm’s work before exclusion from contract bids

Rush/Lusk Educate Together primary school  was constructed by  Western Building Systems in 2008. File photograph: Google Street View

Rush/Lusk Educate Together primary school was constructed by Western Building Systems in 2008. File photograph: Google Street View

 

Western Building Systems Ltd, which built five schools in 2008 that recent Department of Education audits found were not compliant with fire safety standards, has not been excluded from bidding on further State contracts.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said a public body has to prove there were “substantive or persistent deficiencies” in a company’s previous work before excluding them from bidding on a State contract.

In October 2015, fire safety concerns were identified in Rush/Lusk Educate Together primary school, which was constructed by Northern Irish company Western Building Systems in 2008.

Further fire safety audits of five primary schools published last week by the Department of Education outlined that the buildings constructed by Western Building Systems were also not compliant with fire safety certificate standards.

Since 2015, Western Building Systems has been awarded contracts to build a Gaelscoil in Firhouse, 22 rapid build modular homes in Poppintree, Ballymun, and was approved for another modular housing contract this February.

Evidence of reliability

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said any company bidding for a State contract can provide evidence of new measures enacted to prove their reliability, “despite the existence of a relevant ground for exclusion”.

Last week the department published audits that found some materials used in the construction of five rapid-build schools would not achieve sufficient fire resistance to provide the required 60 minutes for a full evacuation.

The audits were completed in July 2016, and required remedial work is expected to be completed in all schools by October 2017. The schools involved were Powerstown Educate Together; Gaelscoil Clocha Liatha, Greystones, Co Wicklow; Mullingar Educate Together in Co Westmeath; Belmayne Educate Together; and St Francis of Assisi National School, Belmayne, North Dublin.

The Powerstown Educate Together school building has since been demolished and replaced by a new building.

In November 2015, Western Building Systems was awarded a contract to build 22 modular houses in Poppintree by Dublin City Council.

In April 2017, Western Building Systems began work on a new two-storey primary school building for Gaelscoil na Giúise in Firhouse, South Dublin.

Modular houses

This February the company was also selected as one of 12 firms to make up a framework contract to build 1,700 rapid delivery modular houses over the next four years.

As an approved contractor on the framework agreement, the firm can bid for modular housing projects as they become available.

Martin McCloskey (63) is the managing director of the Tyrone-registered firm. It recorded a turnover of £39 million last year for an operating profit of £3.7 million, according to its 2016 financial accounts filed with the UK Companies House.

Some £18.6 million of its turnover came from the Republic of Ireland, compared to £21.2 million turnover from the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

Responding to the fire safety audits on five primary schools, a spokesman for the firm said: “We do not believe Western Building Systems Ltd is responsible for issues that have presented themselves”.

The firm’s statement said work carried out by “other contractors subsequent to our handover” may have led to defects or breaches of regulation.

The Department of Education’s fire safety audits found similar issues of non-compliance in all five primary school buildings constructed by the firm that were inspected.