Three more Edinburgh schools closed amid safety fears

THREE more city schools will close amid concern over the condition of their exterior walls.

Friday, 18th March 2016, 11:32 am
Updated Tuesday, 22nd March 2016, 11:50 am
Firrhill High School. Picture Ian Georgeson

CALLS have been made for an inquiry into the Capital’s public-private school building contracts after three campuses were forced to close amid safety fears.

It is understood that inspections carried out at St Peter’s RC Primary, Firrhill High and Braidburn Special School raised doubt over whether classrooms would be completely safe in bad weather.

All three schools, and Oxgangs Primary, which closed earlier this week because of similar issues, were built by the same contractors under the Public Private Partnership 1 (PPP1) agreement.

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Oxgangs was also shut temporarily in January after tonnes of masonry were blown off its wall during a storm.

St Peter’s RC Primary will stay closed until the end of the Easter holidays, with education leaders looking at alternative arrangements which could be put in place for next week.

Detailed tests will be carried out at Firrhill High and Braidburn Special School over the weekend.

Firrhill High is expected to reopen on Monday. If Braidburn cannot reopen, then other accommodation will be found, city officials said.

The closure announcement, which was made late yesterday afternoon, has sparked fear and anger among parents.

One mother at St Peter’s Primary, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s very scary to think that quite a lot of the wall fell down at Oxgangs and it’s fortunate there were no children in the immediate vicinity.

“It could have had the same tragic consequence as at Liberton, although that school was built during a different era.

“St Peter’s is a desirable school. Parents send their kids there because it’s a modern school which shouldn’t have this sort of problem.” Building surveys were carried out by the Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), which manages and operates sites for the city council.

These identified issues with the width of the schools’ wall cavities and structures installed to maintain the stability of masonry. Repairs have been ordered to address the problem.

Although technical specialists said the buildings could stay open in normal weather, education bosses said they were not prepared to take risks with the safety of pupils and staff, and decided to close them.

Conservative councillor Jason Rust said: “The key thing just now is to ensure the buildings are in operational order. Longer term, there needs to be some form of inquiry into the PPP contracts and how they were scrutinised at the time.”

Cllr Melanie Main, Green education spokeswoman, said: “It looks like something has gone badly wrong with the way these private school building contracts have been handled, both in building and in ongoing maintenance, that such rushed action has had to be taken.

“Once any emergency work is completed, it is crucial that responsibility for these failings is established.”

Jim Eadie, SNP MSP for Edinburgh Southern, said he had spoken to Schools Minister Alasdair Allan to call for assurances that “appropriate alternative provision” will be put in place for pupils.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “The health and safety of our pupils and staff is our top priority and therefore the council has decided to temporarily close these schools as a purely precautionary measure. We fully recognise the inconvenience caused by these closures and we would like to apologise to parents for this.”

ESP chiefs could not be reached for comment.