Northern Ireland Schools Face Crumbling Concrete Checks
All of Northern Ireland’s schools are to be checked urgently amid concerns that the problems of crumbling concrete found in schools elsewhere in the UK could affect many buildings in Ulster as well.
Stormont’s Department of Education said checks would be carried out "as a matter of urgency" after more than a hundred schools in England were closed in emergency measures due to concerns about reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), which inspections showed to be prone to crumbling and collapsing.
The department said it has authorised work to "carry out structural surveys to ascertain the scope and scale of RAAC presence in schools in Northern Ireland."
Where RAAC is found, the solution is normally to provide mitigations and structural support rather than demolishing structures, with 52 of the 156 English schools affected already having such measures in place. Steps will now be taken to address the 104 that have been closed.
Equipment like scissor lifts may be in big demand for the installation of new support structures wherever RAAC is found in Northern Ireland.
RAAC was used as a construction material in schools from the 1950s to the 1990s, but it only has a lifespan of around 30 years, which means it will be at the end of its safe lifespan in most cases.
The National Audit Office highlighted the issue in June and inspections since then have started to uncover the extent of the problem.
It is not just schools where the problem may exist, as experts have warned RAAC is also part of the fabric of many other public buildings across the UK, from hospitals to council offices. It is also present in private sector premises.
Checks on schools are also taking place in other parts of the UK, with Wales to carry out an inspection programme, while Scotland’s education secretary Jenny Gilruth told the BBC that 35 Scottish schools have been found to have RAAC, but have all had mitigations put in place