Wall collapse sparks audit of 17 PFI city schools

Brick cladding blown down by the high winds at Oxgangs Primary. Picture: Toby Williams
Brick cladding blown down by the high winds at Oxgangs Primary. Picture: Toby Williams
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TREES were felled, key routes closed and hundreds of bricks ripped from the wall of a city primary school as Storm Gertrude wreaked carnage in the Capital.

Oxgangs Primary School in the south-west of the city will remain shut until at least Tuesday after tonnes of masonry were blown off its walls and scattered in the grounds.

Dramatic photos show the outer cladding stripped bare across a large section – with a huge crack zig-zagging down another wall. The primary, which was destroyed by a fire in 2001, was rebuilt just a decade ago under a public-private partnership agreement between the council and service provider Amey.

Last night, council bosses confirmed all 17 of Edinburgh’s Amey-run schools, known as “PPP1 schools”, would be checked over by contractors for safety issues.

Schools set to be examined include Pirniehall, St David’s RC, Broomhouse, St Joseph’s RC and Craigroyston primaries, as well as Firrhill, Craigmount and Drummond high schools. News of the damage comes after severe gales of up to 70mph caused havoc in streets around the city.

The extreme weather conditions left one man hospitalised after he was struck by flying debris in Pinkhill.

Believed to be in his 30s, the man suffered head injuries but is now understood to be in a stable condition in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Forecasters warned snow is expected to fall across the Lothians as temperatures plunged to zero last night, with up to 10cm expected on high ground.

But Edinburgh is expected to escape the worst of the weather. Shetland is set to experience gales of up to 100mph.

The Met Office has issued an amber warning for wind and snow across the Lothians that will remain in place until 11am today.

An Edinburgh City Council spokesman said Oxgangs Primary would be closed on Monday and a decision will then be taken as to when the school will reopen.

He said: “We take the health and safety of our pupils and staff extremely seriously so further work by structural engineers and health and safety officers will continue at Oxgangs Primary School over the weekend. In addition our PPP1 provider will ensure checks are carried out on the other schools for which they have responsibility. We have contacted parents to let them know and will update them on Monday.”

Amey’s website says it provides “total facilities management services” to ten primary, five secondary and two special schools across the city.

Yesterday’s masonry collapse comes just two years after 12-year-old Keane Wallis-Bennett was crushed to death by a collapsing gym wall at Liberton High. Liberton High was also shut after the storm hit – but council officials insisted this was due to a problem with the school’s water supply, rather than the storm.

Oxgangs Councillor Jason Rust said the disruption was “unfortunate”, but insisted “the safety of pupils and staff is vital and has to come first”.

Elsewhere in the city, a number of roads were closed as strong gusts whipped cladding from roofs and uprooted trees.

Firefighters said they had worked “flat out” to protect families, motorists and homes – even securing a roof in Edinburgh’s Northfield Farm Avenue after half of it was blown off.

Rochelle Smith, who was lying in bed at the time, said “thousand of pounds-worth” of damage had been caused by winds battering the house.

The 35-year-old told of how she woke up to “major banging” coming from the roof, adding: “I actually felt like it was going to cave in, it was that bad. Our whole roof is totally knackered.”

Part of her gutter was ripped off in the storm, crashing down on to her next-door neighbour’s black taxi and denting its bonnet.

Meanwhile, four cladding panels were torn from the roof of Edinburgh College, forcing authorities to shut part of West Granton Road for most of the day. Other roads temporarily closed were Liberton Brae, Corstorphine Road and Bonaly Road, which all saw fallen trees obstructing routes.

The Forth Road Bridge was reopened to traffic in the afternoon but remained out of bounds to high-sided vehicles.

Key attractions affected by the gales included the Botanic Garden, which shut its doors after gusts caused damage to panes on the Glasshouses.

Edinburgh Zoo and the Scott Monument both cited the weather for their closure. Meanwhile, damage was reported at Edinburgh University’s Peffermill sports complex.

A spokeswoman for the Met Office said: “There’s an amber warning in place for wind and snow for the Edinburgh area from 6pm to 11am on Saturday.”

The list of schools to be examined by contractors in the wake of the damange are Oxgangs are Pirniehall, St David’s RC, Broomhouse, St Joseph’s RC, Craigroyston, Craigour Park, St Peter’s RC, Forthview and Castleview primaries, Firrhill, Craigmount, Drummond, Gracemount and Royal high schools, and Braidburn and Rowanfield special schools.

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