Tuesday, 22 Oct 2019

Hundreds of pupils facing temporary relocation for up to 18 weeks after school that faced structural safety concerns to undergo works again

ONE of 23 school that underwent construction following serious structural and health and safety concerns is to close again for up to 18 weeks.

Extensive fire remediation and upgrade works took place at Scoil Chaitlín Maude in Tallaght, Dublin 24 over the summer holidays after concerns over the structural integrity of the school arose last year.

The concerns came after initial assessments were carried out on 42 schools built since 2003 by Northern-based construction company, Western Building Systems (WBS).

WBS were recently awarded a €14m HSE contract to extend University Hospital Limerick. It emerged in August that they were awarded the tender for a 60-bed ward block in May after starting an E-tenders procurement process in July 2018.

Initial inspections uncovered issues at 22 schools, including Scoil Chaitlin Maude. The Department of Education and Skills ordered structural checks on the 42 schools as a result last autumn.

According to Scoil Chaitlín Maude, there remains “a lot of very disruptive work to be done” following the initial works that took place this summer.

The school said that they were advised by the Department of Education to temporarily locate to another school building for approximately 16 to 18 weeks while the work is completed.

Some 345 pupils and 30 staff, as well as toddlers in the connecting pre-school, will have to relocate from the gaelscoil, which moved into the two-storey building in 2016.

It is understood that pupils will be temporarily attending Citywest Educate Together during the construction period. 

In a statement on social media, school principal Bairbre Ní Ghoill said they are awaiting full details from the department to allow for all the necessary works to be carried out and fully completed this school year.

The school reassured parents that there will be discussions held about transporting the pupils to and from the temporary school, which is approximately 5km from Scoil Chaitlín Maude. 

“As of now, we have no further details as to how this move will progress and we await information from the Department. As soon as we have all the details, we will organise a series of meetings with parents and guardians to discuss the practicalities of the move,” Ms Ní Ghoill said.

“This is obviously a huge disruption for the entire school community and will require a lot of cooperation between us all. However, it means that all the works will be completed in the current school year and that will be the end of the various disruptions to the school.

“As we receive additional information, we will keep you all informed. Meanwhile, we appreciate your patience and cooperation.”

Parents have expressed frustration over the relocation so soon into the new school year, which is expected to take place in November.

One local parent, Lee Martin, has three daughters attending the school and a toddler son in the ‘naoinra’ pre-school, which will also temporarily relocate.

Ms Martin said that while she understands the school must put safety first, she is concerned about how she will bring her children to the Citywest school.

“I feel frustrated on behalf of the staff, it must be a nightmare for them especially after all of the years of work in getting the new building. My two eldest went to the portacabins in Knockmore and the upgrade was brilliant,” she told Independent.ie.

“I have to drive because I can’t put my two youngest on a bus, I usually walk to the school so that’s frustrating there will be a cost element there. Also getting to the new school at peak time will be difficult.”

A spokesperson for WBS said: “No proven evidence has ever been presented to us to verify claims of defects or that remedial works are necessary at any of the schools we constructed. We have had no communication from the Department of Education and Skills in relation to this school and as previously stated, we remain open and willing to engage with the department at all times.”

A Department of Education spokesperson has said that they are hoping to minimise disruption for the school.

They said: “Planned permanent structural remediation work is due to commence at Scoil Chaitlín Maude, Tallaght before the end of this year.

“The Department is engaging with the school authority as to how best this work can be facilitated so as to minimise disruption to the school.

“The Department will be continuing with this engagement to finalise plans and it will provide any necessary supports to the school, including transport, while the work is being carried out.”

In August, the building company accused the Department of Education of “distraction and secrecy” over the ongoing review of the schools.

The company said that 10 months on it has “little understanding” of the process over the review and has had no input into it.

The Co Tyrone-based firm asked the department in a series of queries what criteria was adopted for the remedial assessments and subsequent works at the schools.

It also questioned why the schools identified which were certified by the department’s own professional assessors, were “suddenly” deemed to have defects.

In a statement, WBS said: “What were the department’s officials and employed professionals looking at when they were regularly on our school sites and every other non-WBS school site, and originally when evaluating tender proposals?

“We were told that a Clerk of Works appointed by the department was onsite at each school from 2017, yet schools completed in 2017 and 2018 are now the subject of remedial works. How has this situation come about?”

In response, a spokesman for the Department of Education said that a report will be finalised towards the end of the year.

They added: “The minister has commissioned an independent review of current use and practices in the design and build procurement/construction model for the delivery of school buildings (or other similar public 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.”

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