Further faults uncovered as 17 Edinburgh schools close over construction fears

Edinburgh_City_CouncilStructural faults have been detected in two Edinburgh secondaries following the closure of 17 schools in the city.

The City of Edinburgh Council ordered the closures on Friday after the private consortium behind the construction and maintenance of the schools, the Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), admitted that it cannot guarantee the safety the buildings.

The decision to reverse earlier assurances on the safety of the buildings, which were all built under the first round of public-private partnerships (PPP), came after construction problems were identified at Oxgangs and St Peter’s primaries late last week.

Now council chief executive, Andrew Kerr, has confirmed that similar faults have been found at Gracemount High and Craigmount High schools.

Mr Kerr told STV News: “We have been carrying out checks over the weekend, and we have found similar problems at Gracemount and Craigmount High.

“We are waiting for a full report but repairs will need to be carried out. Further inspections are taking place this morning.”

The decision to close the schools, announced late on Friday, were announced after remedial works at storm-damaged Oxgangs Primary revealed serious structural issues with the building’s walls.

This prompted inspections to be carried out at other schools built by Miller Construction under the same PPP contract.

Galliford Try, which acquired Miller Construction in 2014, said it supports the council’s precautionary closures of those buildings.

A spokeswoman said: “While the initial remedial work at Oxgangs Primary School has been completed successfully we have discovered an additional potential issue with the wall construction built by the former Miller Construction business in 2005.

“As a responsible contractor with a proud reputation throughout the UK, we value the safety of the children, the staff and the community above all else and support the council’s precautionary closures of those buildings that were also part of the PPP programme while further investigations take place.

“We will continue to work hard with our design team and all the stakeholders involved to remedy any issue that may arise during this further investigation as soon as possible.”

The schools affected, which serve over 7,600 pupils, are Braidburn School, Broomhouse Primary, Castleview Primary, Craigour Park Primary, Craigmount High, Craigroyston Primary, Drummond Community High, Firrhill High, Forthview Primary, Gracemount High, Oxgangs Primary School, Pirniehill Primary, Rowanfield, Royal High, St David’s Primary, St Joseph’s Primary and St Peters RC Primary.

Mr Kerr and senior education officials met with ESP directors yesterday afternoon to receive an update on the programme of detailed structural surveys which is underway on the PPP1 schools.

More detailed structural surveys, arranged by ESP, continued over the weekend and will carry on over the course of the next week, with updated information being confirmed as early as possible in respect of each school.

It is hoped a clear picture on the secondary schools, including alternative arrangements if required, will be available by Tuesday.

Andrew Kerr said: “I sought assurances from Edinburgh Schools Partnership that their ongoing programme of inspections would give us the confidence to reopen our schools. I have offered to help them secure the necessary resources to complete this as quickly as possible.

“I also reminded them of their contractual and financial obligations and want to assure Edinburgh residents that they will not be left footing the bill.

“The safety of children and our staff is our main priority and I’m simply not willing to compromise on this.”

ESP has said it will accept “full financial responsibility” for resolving structural issues at the schools. The costs could spiral into several million pounds.

An ESP spokeswoman said: “Edinburgh Schools Partnership will accept full financial responsibility for investigating and resolving these issues to ensure that each and every PPP1 school undergoes all necessary remedial work.”

The Scottish Government has offered support with providing additional structural engineers to complete the work, as well as general support with contingency arrangements.

Local authorities across the country have been asked to urgently carry out “any necessary checks” regarding the condition of their school estate.

Glasgow City Council said three of its PFI schools were built by Miller. It said it had carried out checks after the Oxgangs incident and further checks were scheduled this week. However, it said it had no current concerns and expected schools to reopen on Monday after the holidays.

Dundee, Renfrewshire, North Lanarkshire and West Lothian all confirmed they were carrying out checks but did not have any PFI schools built by Miller, while Fife and Aberdeen also confirmed they were carrying out inspections on their schools.

Moray Council said its schools are unaffected by the construction concerns raised in Edinburgh.

Director of education and social care, Laurence Findlay, said: “Miller Construction, the contractors responsible for the schools built under the PPP initiative in Edinburgh, has not undertaken any work on behalf of the Moray Council. We have a five-year rolling programme of health and safety and building standards audits on our schools carried out by our quantity surveyor staff. We are confident that all our schools meet appropriate standards. However we have no complacency in relation to the standards of our school buildings and we continue to monitor our school estate very closely at all times.”

Inverclyde Council has four schools built by Miller under the PPP scheme where the provider is fully responsible for the design, build and maintenance of the school properties and another which was refurbished by Miller and is directly managed by the council.

An Inverclyde Council spokesman said: “We have instructed physical on-site inspections of the refurbished school which is managed by the council. Following dialogue with the PPP provider for the other four schools, arrangements are being finalised for them to carry out urgent inspections on those schools. While the early indications have been that the situation in Edinburgh is not expected to exist in our schools, we are clear that we require assurances through inspections that this is the case. Fortunately, our schools are currently closed for Spring break and don’t re-open until Tuesday. The surveys will be carried out during this period while the schools are closed to allow schools to re-open as normal. Given this is an emerging situation, we will be keeping that position under review and will inform parents immediately if it were to change.”

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said it was now time to re-negotiate maintenance contracts put in place for the running of PPP schools.

Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary, said a motion would go before the union’s AGM in June calling for PPP and private finance initiative (PFI) contracts to be re-negotiated.

Mr Flanagan said: “There needs to be an inquiry into how we’ve got to a situation where buildings which appear to be unsafe are being approved and built, with people working in them for a number of years.

“Our view is that although the attraction of the whole PFI project was that schools were built more quickly, the downside has been that all councils which enter into it are still paying through the nose around the maintenance contracts.

“We think they should be re-opened and looked at again.”

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