School builder alleges 'troubling turnaround' by education authorities in defect controversy

Three Laois schools face disruption to allow repairs

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

WESTERN BUILDING SYSTEMS

Portlaoise Educate Together NS, one of four in Laois built by Western Building Services.

A troubling u-turn has been alleged by the building company at the centre of the controversy which has seen some schools close and others facing disruption due to extensive repairs.

Wester Building Systems says schools in Laois and other counties that were previously free from defects and described by the Education Minister as being built to the highest standards are now being deemed to require remedial works.

Western Building Systems described this as a 'troubling turnaround' in a response to a press statement by the Department of Education and Skills which confirmed that remedial work is needed at schools in Portlaoise and Portarlington and other schools around the country.

The Department confirmed that schools measures are needed before further steps and remedial works. It has not detailed the problems, repairs or timescale of works required. It is understood the key issues involve an absence of ties that secure internal and external walls.

The Co Tyrone-based company responded by saying it has been given limited input to the checking process.

"No details of the assessments have been shared with us. We do not know what any conclusions reached at this point are based on. So far, we have been invited to meet with the Department’s inspectors and officials at 13 of the 42 schools. We had insufficient time on site to make structural evaluations," it said.

The statement said the work carried out on schools had been cleared and endorsed at the highest levels.  

"What is becoming clearer is that schools previously certified for completion as being free from defects by the Department, and described less than twelve months ago by the then Minister as being built to the highest standards, are now being deemed to require remedial works. 

"This includes schools where the Department’s own appointed Clerk of Works had a full-time presence on site. The same projects were also inspected and approved as compliant in line with the new building regulation control process. That such a turnaround is now being reached is troubling on a wider scale," said the builder. 

The company said it is limited in what can be said given the assessment process remains ongoing at this point. However, it acknowledged the impact.

"We wish to reiterate once more our recognition of the impact this has had on pupils, parents and teachers at the schools involved," said the company.

The company insisted that it would not renege on its responsibilities and wants to meet with Minister McHugh.

"While it remains unclear as to why and how we have reached this point, we are not walking away. We honour our contracts. We continue to engage with the Department and remain keen to meet the Minister.

"Hard work, innovation and high standards have underpinned our business for 35 years. The Department itself has awarded us contracts to build 42 schools over a 14 year period based on continuous quality of delivery. We are a reputable contractor who has always delivered to our contracts. 

"There are two main parties to every school building project—the Department and the contractor. Each of these parties has several other qualified professionals assessing the tendering requirements, design, build and certification of every project. There are numerous legal contracts in place overseeing each project.

"Under the form of contract, the Department and its representatives have four weeks to decide on issuing certificates of substantial completion and making payments," concluded the statement.