Raac Crisis Grows As Northern Ireland School Deemed Unsafe

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The crumbling concrete crisis that came to a head in September this year continues to rumble on, with a growing list of public sector buildings affected. At the start of the new school term, dozens of schools and nurseries across the country had to turn to portable modular buildings to provide classroom space.

The existing school buildings had been deemed unsafe and were closed because inspectors had identified the presence of Raac (Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete). This is a lightweight material that was frequently used for flat roofing, floors and walls between the 1950s and 1990s.

It is cheaper and quicker to produce than standard concrete, and easier to transport and install. However, it is prone to become damp because of its aerated nature, and this can cause weakness and sagging. Eventually, this increases the risk that the building will collapse.

Raac has now been found in  over 170 colleges and schools across England. BBC News reports that engineers have now also confirmed the first case of Raac in a primary school in Northern Ireland. An eight-classroom block at Cairnshill Primary School in south Belfast has been classed as unsafe to use, and the school is temporarily closed.

Claire Hanna, MP for Belfast South, described the discovery as concerning, commenting:

“The classrooms in the school have been closed and evacuated to protect children and staff. This is exactly the right approach as we learn more about the risks to these sites. We need to deal with this at pace to ensure that there is minimal interruption to the education of these kids.”

Speaking to BBC’s Evening Extra programme, the president of the National Association of Head Teachers, Liam McGuckin, said it was a terrible situation, and that a temporary solution should be put in place as soon as possible.

He said: “It’s a terrible one and some kids will obviously not be in school tomorrow but I’m sure the Department of Education and the Education Authority will work as quickly as possible to put something in place to help those kids back into school.”

Several schools across the country affected by Raac have already turned to portable buildings as a temporary solution. In some cases, modular buildings already provide permanent classrooms and serve other purposes, such as offices, storage spaces, hygiene facilities, and science labs.

Portable buildings can be installed in a matter of days on almost any flat and stable surface. They are largely constructed off-site, so the installation process will cause minimal disruption to staff and students. The buildings are easily customisable to a range of purposes and are ready fitted with heating, lighting and carpets if required.

The structures are highly adaptable and can be stacked up to three storeys high, or adjoined to make an extended space. They are very cost-effective to run with low maintenance and low heating bills, and can easily be moved to different locations if and when required.

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