Tuesday, January 25, 2022

A school building which suffered from serious structural and fire safety defects was built in just 20 weeks, when the usual time to do so is 60 weeks, the High Court has heard.

Tyrone builders, Western Building Systems Ltd, achieved the “record” 20-week construction time through a combination of hard work and driving subcontractors to ensure they completed Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, in time for the opening-of-term deadline in 2009 as required by the Minister for Education and Skills, the company’s counsel John Trainor SC told the court.

Having to deliver such a project at “breakneck speed” created the risk of shoddy works by contractors and subcontractors, and it was in those circumstances the Minister’s architects and structural engineers overseeing the project had a clear duty to monitor the work which Western understood would be the case, counsel said.

Mr Trainor said as a result of that failure by representatives of the Minister, KSM Architects and Oppermann Associates engineers, to inspect and monitor the work as it was being carried out, the Minister is morally responsible for the cost of remediation works to the school which the court head will cost €11.5 million. Western claims these works could have cost as little as €1.2 million.

The Minister is suing Western over defects in Ardgillan, some of which have been agreed between experts and others which are in dispute, the court heard. Western denies the claims.

A number of third party subcontractors and other companies brought into the case on the basis of seeking a contribution or indemnity against them are no longer in the case and those matters have been settled, the court heard.

Discovery

David McGrath SC, opening the case for the Minister, said Western built some 42 schools under a build and design scheme introduced in 2007 and in circumstances where there was an urgent need for school places in the era of the Celtic Tiger and expanding populations which could not be accommodated in existing schools.

When the external wall of a school in Edinburgh, built under the rapid build scheme, collapsed because of inadequate ties to an internal wall, it led to inspections in Irish schools where a number of defects, including fire safety defects, were discovered. Ardgillen, alone among the schools, had to be closed.

Counsel said an extraordinary feature of Western’s defence was that it denied there was an express-implied term that the schools would be structurally safe.

The idea that a company would take on the job of building 42 schools and not think it was responsible for making them structurally safe was “staggering”, counsel said.

Mr Trainor, for Western, said the terms of the contract did not mention the words structurally safe, but obviously it was an implied term within the specifications for the schools that they would comply with all requirements.

The case continues before Mr Justice Brian O’Moore.

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