First Priory Hall, then Longboat Quay…now schools | Irish Examiner

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07 October 2015

It appears that former Minister Phil Hogan’s continued system of “light-touch” self-regulation and the ongoing legacy of public safety and fire problems extends to other non-residential building types. Two Irish Examiner articles by Fiachra Ó Cionnaith explore the problem of fire safety in a “RAPID” school in Lusk and poses the question how many more are there in the state?

Rush and Lusk Educate Together is one of a programme of 30 new RAPID school projects programmed for delivery in 2008 and directly managed by the Department of Education (see link here).

  • In “Pupils at firetrap school for 6 years” Irish Examiner, Tuesday, 06, October  2015 Fiachra Ó Cionnaith reported how more than 200 primary students were attending a school for six years with serious fire issues. In mid 2014 an architect’s routine examination of the primary school found it had so many fire safety concerns it could have collapsed during a blaze in just 20 minutes. The school was a Department of Education “design and build” project completed just 6 years previously. Once the defects were uncovered at the Rush and Lusk Educate Together national school, the Dublin Fire Brigade ordered the Department of Education to make immediate repairs costing more than €800,000 to make the building safe. Extract:

“The school in north Dublin was signed off on by the Fianna Fáil-led government of the time in 2008. However, a routine inspection in 2014 found it had so many fire safety concerns it could have collapsed during a blaze in just 20 minutes.

…The school was built by Western Building Systems, from Coalisland, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in 2008 on foot of a Department of Education request, before being given to multi-denominational group Educate Together as a temporary home.

In early summer 2014, when the department formally told the group the facility was now its long-term location, the school’s board asked an architect to examine the site it had already been using for six years due to ongoing issues with leaks in windows and the roof, sound proofing on doors, and other matters.

The architect’s report also uncovered serious fire safety concerns, including:

  • The lack of cavity barriers within walls to prevent a fire from spreading;
  • Steel girders which were not coated with intumescent paint to protect the structure during intense heat;
  • The storage of combustible material in escape routes;
  • Inadequate ‘fire stopping’ on fire-resistant doors to prevent smoke seeping through during a blaze.

After discussions with the Department and the school’s board, Dublin fire brigade was asked to intervene.

Dublin Fire Brigade fire prevention officer Mary O’Brien told the school board in early June 2014 that the problems were “a matter of urgency” and that, if left unaddressed by the department — which had “the responsibility for the fire safety of the premises” as it was the “owner” — the standard 60-minute period to safely evacuate the facility during a fire would be cut to just 20 minutes.

After the school’s board contacted parents by letter on June 12, 2014, the Department of Education’s building section unit conducted its own examination. It subsequently spent more than €800,000 to repair and address the structural issues involved over a four-month period up to September 2014.

…Western Building Systems has yet to respond to a request for comment.

The department said its initial “on-site technical evaluation” led to it commissioning “an in-depth, detailed report which involved an extensive and invasive survey of the school building”. However, it has yet to provide this document.”

  • In “Unsafe school build raises questions about others” Tuesday, October 06 2015 Fiachra Ó Cionnaith explores Fire safety controversies that have blighted apartment blocks and now a school, prompting the question ‘where go from here?’. Extract:

“First it was Priory Hall. Last week it was Longboat Quay. Today it is a school which posed serious fire safety risks to more than 200 children and staff for six years. It is legitimate to ask: Where to next?

…Government has been aware for over a year that the serious problems are — in at least one case — not limited to just a single part of the construction sector…This time it is a school and not an apartment complex taking centre stage, with taxpayers replacing apartment owners in being controversially left to pick up the substantial tab.

…And while it may come as a surprise to the general public, correspondence shows the Department of Education — and Government — have been fully aware of the issue for a year, meaning questions now need to be asked about how many other buildings in use from the period pose similar problems which have to date remained hidden from view.

…After being told in early 2014 that the short-term location was now a long-term home, the board of the school — which had used the facility for the past six years to teach more than 200 children — reluctantly accepted the decision and sought an independent architect’s report to address issues such as the leaking roof and windows in its now permanent home.

The response instead warned of serious fire safety issues linked to the building’s structure…While the issues were, thankfully, fully resolved, the department needed to spend €800,000 addressing the serious shortfalls in the building’s safety — money which could otherwise have been made available for other vital nationwide school improvements.

However, it has to date declined to clarify how many other schools, if any, built during the boom are also affected by an issue that has previously been seen as confined to apartment blocks.

The latest building scandal and Celtic Tiger ghost comes to light as the ongoing Longboat Quay controversy — which could ultimately cost apartment owners damaged by the crisis a combined €4m — continues to cause consternation.

It also comes after Nama’s Oireachtas public accounts committee admission last Thursday that it has spent more than €100m in taxpayers’ money to fix fire trap facilities built during the boom.

In many ways, what happened at the Rush and Lusk facility is simply the latest case to add to the list that first began with Priory Hall, something that is just an accepted by-product of the boom after it went bust.

But in a key way, it is different. At least one school is now involved. Children were at risk, unknowingly, for six years, with the danger only identified by accident after an examination of completely different concerns over the building.

For those pressing for answers over fire safety issues in Celtic Tiger-era buildings, it is the clearest example yet that a full examination of the scale of the problem is needed. Where to next, indeed.”

Other posts of interest:

Ministerial Review into Fire Safety is “…a joke” | Irish Examiner

Phil Hogan’s Building Regulations… “were a step backwards”

“Risky housing sale outrageous but legal” | Longboat Quay

Is Limerick Hotel fire a 3rd “Lucky Escape”?

Michael Clifford: “when will we address cracks in construction?” Irish Examiner

Irish Examiner | “Local Authorities should be setting the standard”- Minister Paudie Coffey

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