Council to repair academy's heating system over student safety fears

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020 4:13pm

By Charlotte Green, Local Democracy Reporter @CharGreenLDR

Council bosses are having to step in to repair an academy with a dysfunctional heating system because they fear 'pupils aren't safe'.

Cabinet members in Oldham have agreed to use their own sub-contractor and fund works at Blessed John Henry Newman College, a Catholic secondary school on Broadway (pictured). 

The new-build school was completed in 2012 under a partnership between Oldham council and a PFI contractor owned by Balfour Beattie, as part of the national ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme. 

However the council report states that following its completion, ‘several building defects became apparent’.

These included issues with the heating system, roof leaks in the atrium area and an inability to control temperatures in certain rooms due to a ‘variety of factors’.

At the cabinet meeting (January 27), Councillor Abdul Jabbar (pictured below), portfolio holder for finance, said the school had cost £32m to build and was the ‘most expensive school anywhere in the borough’.

“So of course we expected it to have all the facilities working properly,” he added.

“It’s got to a stage where really we feel that we have to take control of the situation.

“This was a very expensive school to begin with, so for us to be saddled with this kind of problem is completely unacceptable.”

He said that deputy chief executive Helen Lockwood had been working to try and resolve the problem, but numerous meetings and conservations had not resulted in it being sorted out.

“It’s got to a stage where really we are not confident that our children will be safe in there, so this is why we made this decision,” Coun Jabbar said. 

“For the sake of our children this needs to be resolved and it needs to be resolved right now.”

In 2016, Balfour Beattie sold its majority shareholding in the Oldham BSF Limited company to an investment fund within the Amber Infrastructure Group.

Since the school opened in 2012, the day to day operational management of the school has been undertaken by Engie Limited, who were subcontracted to provide facilities management.

Works had been undertaken to improve the heating system between 2015 and 2017.

And in late 2017, Oldham BSF Limited – the PFI vehicle – committed to undertake and finance remedial works to improve the heating system across the school. 

But in April last year, the council was informed that the company was ‘no longer prepared to finance the works’ until the outcome of an adjudication with its subcontractors was known, which would have established liability for the rectification works.

The decision has been ‘repeatedly delayed’ from summer 2019, to this January, according to Oldham council.

The report states that the head and governors at the school are ‘extremely frustrated’ at how long the problems have gone on for, and the ‘inability of various partners to remedy’.

“These matters have impacted on the smooth operation and educational provision of students in their care,” officers say. 

As a consequence of the building defects and ‘other performance shortfalls’ the council has been deducting money from the monthly unitary charge that it pays to the contractor. 

The town hall has now commissioned an external contractor to carry out a full investigation to assist with implementing improvements to the heating system, and has set out the required actions of the PFI contractor from this month onwards.

Works which formed a short-term solution were carried out over Christmas, but a longer-term solution is required.

As such the council’s preferred option is to do works to improve the heating system using its own contractor. 

However the details of how much this work will cost was discussed at part of the meeting behind closed doors.

Cabinet member for children’s services, Coun Amanda Chadderton told members that it would have been ‘easy’ for the local authority to have not taken action as the school is an academy and not under their control.

“I really welcome that actually we’ve been the bigger person in this because the most important thing is that those students at John Henry Newman have a school which is fit for 2020,” she added.

“It has gone on for too long, and it is a disgrace really how the contractors have acted so I’m pleased that we are stepping in.”

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