Concrete concerns hit Scottish school

A Scottish secondary school has been partially closed over concerns that it may have been built with a potentially dangerous type of structural concrete.

More than 20 rooms at Preston Lodge High School in Prestonpans, East Lothian, have been shut while structural surveys are carried out into the potential use of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

In a statement, East Lothian Council said it had, like other local authorities across the UK, actioned structural surveys of buildings constructed between the 1950s and 1980s to assess possible use of RAAC precast concrete materials.

“In order to facilitate these surveys, some parts of the building have been temporarily closed,” it said.

“Head teacher [of Preston Lodge] Gavin Clark and his staff have put in place alternative arrangements to ensure the continuation of education provision including the current Scottish Qualifications Authority exam timetable, while more detailed survey work is carried out.”

RAAC is a lightweight form of concrete used in roof, floor, cladding and wall construction across the UK from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s.

Safety concerns over historic use of RAAC in public buildings prompted the Office of Government Property to warn last year that the material was now “life-expired and liable to collapse”, noting that this had already happened at two schools with “little or no notice”.

The Ministry of Justice recently suggested that the material may be present in six court buildings, while the Ministry of Defence is investigating barracks and training facilities in its estate that it fears could also be at risk.

Earlier this year, six education unions wrote an open letter to the UK Government calling for urgent action over schools at danger of collapse.

It followed a warning from the Department for Education last year that the prospect of a post-war-built school collapsing was “very likely” as they reached the end of their design life.

In a letter to parents of Preston Lodge High School quoted in local media, Clark said: “While survey work at Preston Lodge has already started, it is clear, following discussion with the contractor, that temporarily restricting access to some parts of the building will enable inspections to be carried out efficiently and effectively.

“Carrying out these inspections to establish the extent to which any RAAC was used in the construction of the building will provide us with important information and support the continued health and safety of all our students and staff.”

He added that while disruption was inevitable, the school had the capacity to allow learning to continue because only three year groups were present, due to exams currently taking place.

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