School safety mystery

Last updated 12:00 14/09/2012
Stephen Snell
MURRAY WILSON/ FAIRFAX NZ
AMAZED: Dannevirke South School principal Stephen Snell did not expect to learn his A block was missing important steel rods.

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Important steel rods were missing from a school building that met just 4.2 per cent of the required standard, and the school is unable to explain why.

Dannevirke South School's Block A has been closed for a week after structural problems with its roof were found and an engineer ruled it unsafe.

At a meeting at the school last night, Education Ministry officials, principal Stephen Snell and engineer Dave Bishop fronted up to parents.

Mr Snell said a plan was in place to provide educational space for all children for the rest of the year and to have the classrooms safe to use by the start of next year.

Before then the block, home to seven classrooms, the library, teacher resourcing area and administration area, would be strengthened. About 210 students had been taught in the building.

He would not allow staff or students to use Block A again until it was up to standard.

"None of your children will be going back into those classrooms until the board [of trustees] believe they are absolutely safe."

Mr Bishop said there was a bracing standard for buildings such as schools and Block A met 4.2 per cent of that standard.

At some unknown point in the past a series of steel rods that helped hold the building together had been removed.

"[The building's] still there and may well be there well into the future. Unfortunately in walking around in the ceiling space we discovered some things were missing, and from walking around in the classrooms we found more things were missing.

"The building's still there because the roof is heavy and it doesn't want to move."

The weight of the roof on the walls had counteracted any sideways forces such as wind, he said. The building's "U" shape had helped it stay up too, he said, as had additions built on two sides of the building which helped brace it.

Mr Bishop said the issues with the building could only be found if someone who knew what they were looking for crawled around in the roof space.

"It looks good from the outside but when you crawl around in the roof space it doesn't add up."

Mr Snell said school staff, with help from the ministry, had made arrangements to have all children in classrooms from today. So far this week parents of affected pupils had been asked to keep them at home.

From today 87 Year 2 and 3 students would be taught in classrooms at Totara College that were not being used.

Three classes would be housed in the school hall where dividing walls, carpets, whiteboards, desks and chairs would be set up by Monday.

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The seventh class could still use its classroom as, while it was attached to Block A, it was not part of the original building and engineers had deemed it safe.

Mr Snell said he was thankful to the staff at Totara for accommodating them as he was for the efforts of his own staff during the past week.

"There's been a lot of stress on teachers... They've performed hugely and it's amazing what they've achieved in a short term."

Strengthening work will be carried out in two phases.

Phase A will involve a series of beams being installed along the length of the roof space to spread the weight across internal as well as external walls.

In phase B a second series of beams will be installed with both rows attached to a number of 1-metre wide pillars which will run from the roof space down to new foundations in the ground.

Once the work was complete, Block A would be "comparable to 100 per cent of the building standard", Mr Bishop said.

- Manawatu Standard

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