Four schools ‘potentially’ have combustible cladding
THE FOUR schools in Essex were identified as having ‘been potentially fitted’ with combustible cladding, according to a fire safety report.
Halstead Gazette reported on the inspection’s findings, which noted that four schools ‘under the responsibility’ of Essex County Council (ECC) have been ‘potentially fitted’ with combustible cladding, with the report compiled by the Independent Property Review Commission (IPRC). The commission noted in turn that it had ‘specially highlighted’ concerns regarding Wentworth Primary School in Maldon, Danbury St Johns in Chelmsford and Buckhurst Hill Primary.
In addition, Edith Borthwick School in Braintree was going to be visited by ECC’s principal quality inspector during the easter holidays, with a meet planned to discuss findings and ‘determine the best course of action in each case’. This would include ‘where necessary’ the identification of any budget ‘necessary’ to undertake removal and replacement works.
All of the schools identified had been notified of the findings, with specialist advice being sought ‘to determine whether there are any immediate operational measures that can be put in place to mitigate the identified risks as far as possible’. Taking into account the ‘extent’ of works needed, these may be undertaken in the summer holidays this year, the news outlet added, with any extensive works said to perhaps ‘take more time to plan and procure’.
A review begun last year found there were ‘very few’ buildings of three floors or higher, none of which were residential and none of which ‘had cladding of concern’, but the IPRC ‘subsequently’ raised concerns about the ‘potential presence’ of cladding in schools with more than one storey, specifically in escape routes and refuge areas ‘that could have potential to increase risk in the event of a fire’.
Of 64 maintained schools with more than one storey, 32 had ‘some form’ of cladding on the buildings, and of these eight had cladding near stairs, while three had cladding near a refuge, and six had cladding near a corridor. Additionally, 17 had cladding near a fire escape, while of the 32 with cladding, 27 had ‘no additional significant health and safety risk’ posed by it. The five remaining schools included one that had become an academy, which was ‘no longer’ under ECC control.
This left the four named schools, with Wentworth Primary having ‘some areas of concern’ on single storey areas ‘where exterior cladding is present’ either in the area or ‘closely adjacent’ to primary escape doors and routes’, though this would ‘require further discussion on whether any action is necessary’. Danbury St John’s meanwhile had cladding ‘virtually everywhere adjacent to and around’ primary fire escape doors and routes, with the report stating this was a ‘cause for concern’.
The IPRC noted that this was ‘especially clear’ as it had appeared to have ‘been fixed over the top of the coated timber panels’, also combustible; while Buckhurst Hill had ‘some areas of concern’ where cladding was in the ‘direct area of or closely adjacent to’ primary escape doors and routes’. ECC believes however that this could be ‘mitigated’ with good preparation and ‘reapplication’ of a fire retardant finish.
IPRC’s report will be discussed at an ECC meeting later in April, and it noted that of 13 fire safety recommendations made, 11 have been fully implemented, one partially implemented and another – which says ECC should ‘review its approach’ to note that remedial fire safety works marked ‘necessary’ in fire risk assessments are addressed ‘within a reasonable period’ – is ‘being addressed’.
It concluded: ‘During this review, the IPRC has carefully considered ECC’s response to specific issues that emerged in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster. It has also examined the effectiveness of arrangements for ensuring appropriate fire safety standards in the design and construction of new ECC buildings, as well as the management of fire safety in existing ECC buildings and those undergoing refurbishment.
‘In doing so, they saw clear evidence of well-established fire safety management systems, including some examples of good practice. However, they also identified a number of areas in which there is clearly room for improvement. Members of the IPRC believe that this report clearly articulates what they have found; the evidence in support of the findings; and a set of recommendations that provide ‘real world’ opportunities to secure genuine improvement.
‘The eventual impact of the IPRC’s work will, however, be determined by the effectiveness of the response to this report. On that basis, IPRC members believe that a scrutiny exercise should be undertaken in 12 months’ time, to assess the extent to which recommendations have been effectively implemented.’