Demand for action over school faults

THE local authority is being urged to seek compensation for what a former councillor for Earlston has described as an on-going series of defects with the village’s flagship secondary school.

Together with new secondaries at Eyemouth and Duns, Earlston High School was part of a £76million public-private partnership (PPP) project.

Opened just three years ago and costing around £28million, Earlston High suffered problems last week when part of an art classroom ceiling collapsed during maintenance work.

Former local Scottish Borders councillor, John Paton-Day, told TheSouthern at the time it was just the latest in long list of defects since the school opened.

Not so, said Scottish Borders Council, adding that it would be “wrong” to suggest there had been a number of serious construction problems.

However, this week TheSouthern has been passed a list of incidents which Mr Paton-Day has collated and which he claims shows the level of problems.

The alleged incidents include flooding of a sports field; front concrete steps breaking up; a large number of leaks all around the building resulting in damage to white boards etc; large panel from the front of the building falling off; on-going problems with light pollution; inadequate classroom temperature control; fire door closers not fixed securely; at times the classroom above boiler room is like a sauna; biomass boiler only providing minimal output and gas boilers having to be used; floor screed throughout the school being uneven.

Mr Paton-Day says neither school, staff or the council are to blame, as they are, to all intents and purposes, simply tenants.

He told us: “As tenants they have every right to expect a building that meets all requirements, but since the school has been open there has been an ongoing list of problems.

“Until now those problems have caused annoyance and some disruption, but when large panels fall off the front of the building onto the main entrance to the school, and now classroom ceilings collapse, it surely must be time to accept that enough is enough.

“Our teachers and technical staff have enough problems with the ever-growing financial restraints being imposed on them; they should not have to deal with the effects of poor design and construction quality.”

The school, along with the two other new secondaries, was designed and built by the Scottish Borders Education Partnership, and Amey is the company supplying the facilities management services portion of the deal.

Mr Paton-Day now wants the council to take action: “I believe it is time to negotiate financial compensation, and to put in place a more effective quality control system, one that has teeth, and not rely solely on Amey to oversee repairs nor to be the sole renderer for repairs.”

One local parent says it does not look as if SBC got a good deal on the new schools, adding: “The kids have been blamed for a number of these problems, with accusations of vandalism, but that’s not true. It is due to building defects in a lot of cases.”

In a statement this week, SBC told us: “As with all major projects and new buildings, including the three PPP schools, there will be snags and defects that appear through time.

“All defects or remedial works that arise are addressed through the building warranty and rectified to an agreed programme of works.”

Asked to comment, a spokeswoman for Amey said the statement from the council should be “treated as a joint one” from both the local authority and the company.

Councillor Sandy Aitchison (Galashiels & District, BP), SBC Executive Member for Education, was unaware of any of the issues raised by Mr Paton-Day.

“My understanding is that any structural problems will be the responsibility of the builders and owners of the property but 
I will need, and will seek, clarification,” 
he said.

Councillor Nicholas Watson (Leaderdale & Melrose, BP), who was aware of some of the issues, said any huge building will have problems; the question was whether these were rectified promptly.

He said: “Some, like the fallen panel, were fixed pretty sharply, but others, like heat and lighting levels, and biomass boiler performance, can involve protracted wrangling, because SBC is effectively the tenant and anything seen as a change is another profit opportunity for the buildings’ owners.

“The biggest problem though is the overall cost. Ultimately education should be more about good teaching than about buildings.”