A court has heard that shoddy workmanship in a project delivered "at breakneck speed" was responsible for serious and extensive defects at a North Dublin school constructed in 2009 by a Tyrone based building company.
The Minister for Education is suing Western Building Systems for damages related to the construction of Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan.
In what promises to be a landmark case the Commercial Court was told that the full cost of identifying and remediating the structural defects has run to €11.5 million.
The building was constructed by Western Building Systems in 2009 at a cost of €3.5 million.
The court heard the building was "seriously defective in practically every significant way".
Accepting legal liability for the defects Western Building Systems said it believed that "all or most moral responsibility" for what happened lay with the Minister for Education. It said the defects were the result of "shoddy workmanship" incurred on a project delivered "at breakneck speed". It has also disputed what it says is a "vastly exaggerated damages claim".
The court heard that the school was among the first of 42 built by the company under a new 'rapid' design and build type contract, designed to meet a sudden increased demand for school places in new suburbs around the country.
In 2018, investigations uncovered extensive and serious structural defects. They included serious defects in the schools external and internal walls, in doors and windows, and in the building’s steel frame.
Western Building Systems said that, as well as moral responsibility, the "excessive" cost of remediation should be attributed to the minister.
It said that throughout the process it had acted exactly as it had been expected to act under the contract. It said it was contracted to build a school in 12 weeks when the normal period was 60 weeks. It said that ironically, although the contract was for ‘design and build’, WBS itself had not actually built any of the school because all of the work had been subcontracted to others.
The company says there was an early agreement that a separate company representing the Minister for Education, KSN, as well as a company subcontracted by WBS, Oppermann, would jointly carry out periodic inspections to facilitate quality assurance. It said this was the company’s guarantee of quality. It said these periodic inspections could have discovered the defects as the work progressed, but that minutes show that at each progress meeting no defects were recorded.
It questioned whether an overriding preoccupation with ensuring that the works were delivered on time might have led to a blind eye being turned.
Counsel for the company, John Trainor, told the court that following that agreement, WBS spent all of its time dealing with procurement, subcontracting, supplies, and other issues. It said the company did not concern itself with quality and no defects were ever pointed out to it during construction.
"The single overwhelming factor was the necessity to have the school open on August 24th," the court heard. In the end the company delivered the school in 20 weeks when it says it should have taken 60. This entailed "hard work, late hours, and driving subcontractors".
"A programme that has to be delivered at breakneck speed carries risk, and the most obvious risk was shoddy workmanship," counsel for the company told the court.
WBS says that this risk was "clearly recognised" by the Department of Education.
The company accepts that a great many of the defects are the result of shoddy workmanship, for which WBS subcontractors were responsible. It acknowledged that the "many failures" were "extremely serious".
Acting on behalf of the Minister for Education, Senior Counsel David McGrath said it seemed that WBS was of the view that there was no obligation for them that the building would be structurally safe, and that this was "horrifying". He described as "staggering" the company view "that they didn't think it mattered what way the building was done as long as it was put up and they were paid for it.
However the company rejected that view.
WBS has argued that the Minister for Education is liable to a significant finding of contributory negligence, because it says the minister knew from the minutes of meetings that site inspections were going to be the guarantee of quality.
The company believes that the Minister for Education should be liable for 50% of the cost of remediation as a result of the defects.
But it has also disputed the scale of the €11.5 million bill, which it says it "vastly exaggerated".
It says remediation was not done in a timely manner and that this contributed to escalated costs.
It says that WBS has been made "the fall guy" and subjected to adverse media publicity.
The company believes that it is liable for no more than €2.5 million in relation to Ardgillan Community College.
This is the first hearing in what is the first of a number of proceedings that the Minister for Education is taking against WBS in relation to a total of 40 school buildings constructed by the company.
Defects discovered in the other buildings also necessitated at times extensive remediation works, although they were not as serious as the defects discovered at Ardgillan, the department says.
The case resumes tomorrow.