Wall repairs carried out at 30 schools in Scotland
16 August 2016
- From the section Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland
A total of 30 schools in Scotland have had to make repairs due to structural defects in the last five years, a BBC investigation has revealed.
The issues are similar to those at Oxgangs Primary in Edinburgh, where a wall collapsed in January.
That led to 17 schools in the city being closed before the summer holidays over safety fears.
Responding to some of the new evidence, a leading architect told the BBC: “In my view, this is malpractice.”
About 7,600 primary and secondary school children in the capital were affected when the Edinburgh schools, which were all built or refurbished as part of the same public private partnership (PPP) scheme, were closed suddenly in April this year.
The problems – with wall and header ties, used to hold exterior and interior walls together and attach them to the rest of the building – first became apparent when part of a wall at Oxgangs fell during stormy weather.
Safety inspections were ordered and pupils were bussed to other schools across the city while repairs were carried out.
Edinburgh City Council’s investigation into what happened is due to begin later this week. The chief executive has told the BBC that the inquiry may reveal nationwide issues with this kind of building.
Now the BBC has also learned that similar problems with wall and header ties have been uncovered at 13 other schools across Scotland.
Repairs have been undertaken in South Lanarkshire, Stirlingshire, Glasgow and East Renfrewshire in the last five years.
Images of St Ninian’s High School in East Renfrewshire, obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, show the inside of cavity walls where some metal ties are dangling in mid-air instead of holding the outside wall to the inside wall.
Other wall ties were not properly embedded because the joints in the walls were not aligned. The council had to undertake a number of repairs to the school, costing more than £870,000.
“The way some of these things are done is very worrying indeed,” said Prof Alan Dunlop, Master Architect and lecturer with Robert Gordon University.
“I’m also concerned and shocked that this is something that happened in 2010 and we do not know anything at all about it.”
“I would suggest that it not only contravenes what would be standard practice. In my view this is malpractice,” he added.
During a storm in January 2012, in East Kilbride, Duncanrig Secondary School’s wall collapsed inwards. Header ties – also called wall head restraints – were added when the wall was rebuilt.
The next day, at Trinity High School in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, a wall collapsed due to structural defects similar to those found at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh in 2016.
South Lanarkshire Council said engineers had concerns over both design and construction failures and wall ties were part of the repair process.
The work was overseen by the company who runs the schools, Morgan Sindall.
After investigations at other schools in the area for which it has responsibility, a small number of additional wall ties were added at eight other sites.
‘Safety number one priority’
A spokesman for Morgan Sindall said: “We took a responsible approach to the issues by carrying out further investigations across the entire South Lanarkshire Secondary Schools estate for which we were responsible.
“This identified a small number of issues, with 62 tie repairs being required at nine (including Duncarig) of the 16 schools.”
To provide some context, the total number of wall ties used across the estate is 240,000.
The spokesman added: “Safety is always our number one priority.”
As pupils get ready to return to Edinburgh schools on Wednesday, following all the repairs being completed, the council said its inquiry would look at whether the failures in Edinburgh amount to a national construction issue.
It said the issue could affect any public building built in the same way as the 17 school which were closed in April – with cavity walls around a steel frame.
Chief executive, Andrew Kerr, said: “It may be that this is a national issue that has to be tackled in terms of how you supervise these works going on, how they’re undertaken. We have just tried to make sure that Edinburgh schools are safe right now.”
All the defects reported at the 30 schools identified have now been repaired.
Edinburgh City Council has assured parents that buildings affected by closures are now safe for their children to return for the start of the new school year.
- BBC Scotland Investigates will be looking in further detail at why the wall at Oxgangs Primary School collapsed in a documentary to be broadcast next week: BBC Scotland Investigates: How Safe is My School? On BBC1 Scotland at 19:00 on Monday 22 August.