Emergency surveys have revealed construction flaws in all of the 17 schools closed over safety concerns at the start of this week in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Gracemount High, one of the Edinburgh schools found to have construction flaws
The faults are serious enough to keep some schools shut for the rest of the school year and into the summer, a source has said.
Revelations of widespread faulty construction came yesterday as school staff and city officials struggled with the logistical challenge of accommodating 5,900 pupils, with many in high school facing national exams next month.
Citing breach of contract conditions, Edinburgh City Council is now refusing to pay the £1.5m ($2.1m) due this month to the private owner, Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), which built the schools under a public-private partnership (PPP) deal approximately 10 years ago.
UK contractor Galliford Try, meanwhile, has said it has contractual responsibility for four of the 17 schools thanks to its 2014 acquisition of Miller Construction, one of the joint-venture partners in the PPP project.
Edinburgh City Council Leader Andrew Burns said yesterday that the council had received "early indications that suggest evidence of faults across all 17 affected schools to a varying extent".
"At the moment it is too early to say what the impact will be as full survey results from Edinburgh Schools Partnership have not been yet been received. Some faults may be easy to fix and may not present a major problem while others could be longer term," Burns said.
He added: "What is certain is that we won’t take risks with the safety of our schools children and schools won’t reopen until Edinburgh Schools Partnership can assure us of their safety."
For some schools it’s going to be the summer. Some of them might be closed until August
Construction flaws include missing header ties, which would require comprehensive intervention to put right. One source told the Edinburgh Evening News: "For some schools it’s going to be the summer. Some of them might be closed until August."
The city council is now understood to be preparing for a major claim against ESP. Council officials said yesterday they would withhold the latest £1.5m instalment of the private finance charge, invoking their legal rights under the contract.
"We will not be paying them that this month," a council spokesman told newspaper The Guardian. "We’re applying all the contractual terms, and those include deductions for non-availability [of the schools]."
According to The Guardian the real lifetime cost of the schools contract will reach £529m in cash terms by 2032, nearly 50% more than the original costing of £360m.
The affair has drawn widespread criticism of the PPP procurement method, with Scotland’s largest teaching union calling this week for a review of all PPP contracts in Scotland.
Photograph: Gracemount High School, one of 17 Edinburgh schools found to have construction flaws (Â© Kay Williams and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)