Saturday, 30 November 2013

Concern over cracks in school walls



the3towns understands access to the games hall at St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats is to be restricted pending an investigation of cracks that have appeared on the structure’s walls.

The school was opened just 5 years ago as part of North Ayrshire Council’s highly-controversial Schools PPP Project, which saw the local authority’s previous Labour administration accept a price tag of £380m for four schools with a capital value, when new, of just £80m.  The balance of £300m represents the cost of a 30-year maintenance contract - £10m a year for just four schools.

The North Ayrshire Schools PPP Project became notorious within local government circles after it was revealed the then Labour-run Council had proceeded with awarding a multi-million pound contract despite only ever having one credible and viable bid.  A second bid, claimed by the Council to represent ‘genuine competition’, had come from a company with no filed accounts, no office, no experience in building or maintaining schools and issued share capital of just £2.00.

This week, a Council source told the3towns that concerns over cracking in the walls of the games hall at St Matthew’s Academy meant use of the building would be limited until structural engineers could be brought in to investigate the extent of the problem.

However, concerns regarding the St Matthew’s games hall are not new.  In February 2009 the3towns revealed that Ardrossan builder Alistair McKenzie had discovered mortar between concrete blocks was soft.  Mr McKenzie’s company had been contracted to carry out repairs to the school, which, at the time, was just two-years old.  The builder told the3towns in 2009, “We worked at the four PPP schools doing repairs for months, with much of what we had to do being correcting faults that were left from when the schools were built.

Of the St Matthew’s games hall, Alistair McKenzie said, “The condition of the walls at the gym are a disgrace.  They are built with five-inch concrete blocks and they were being pushed back by kids kicking balls against them.  The mortar holding them together is soft; there has not been enough cement in the mixture when the school was built.  There are basketball goals and climbing frames attached to these walls and they are coming away because the mortar is too soft to hold them.

However, a Health & Safety Executive inspection following a complaint from Mr McKenzie found there to be no “serious” problems at the school.

Ten-months later, in November 2009, a staff member at St Matthew’s Academy sent the3towns a photo, taken inside the school’s games hall, which clearly showed cracks emerging between concrete blocks in the structure’s walls.  According to the staff member at the time, the cracks had been painted over on a number of occasions.

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