Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Leaky school backs legal action

A Northland school plagued by leaky building issues, including five classrooms needing replacement, has applauded formal Government action seeking costly damages.

The Education Ministry last week initiated legal action against major building product companies over its burgeoning repair bill for leaky school buildings estimated to be $1.5 billion.

Nationally, more than 800 buildings at over 300 schools are undergoing remedial work, acting secretary for education Peter Hughes said.

Kerikeri's Riverview Primary School, which is in its fourth year of repairs due to building leaks, said two classrooms and the school hall were currently out of action.

"Our school has needed repairing of every building, except for two reasonably modern classrooms," principal Ken McLeay said.

Most of the school's buildings were built in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he said. "The majority of classrooms have to be reroofed and reclad and new windows and doors put on. Five classrooms have to be replaced. One has been replaced and there's four [more] classrooms ...

which will be replaced with a new classroom block."

The library and administration buildings had also been shut for 12 months, he said.

But despite construction and classroom closures, the school community has remained relatively upbeat, he said. "The children seemed to not be too bothered. I think it's been much more impacting on the staff. Almost every teacher has had to move out of their classroom for a three to six-month period while everything is fixed up."

The Education Ministry has lodged a High Court claim against wall-cladding manufacturers, which supplied building materials used in schools affected by weather-tightness failure.

While it has not named the companies involved, statements made by Australian building product makers James Hardie Industries and CSR confirmed they were party to the suit.

The ministry has about 100 leaky building cases before the courts. Twenty-seven had been settled for cash, or services in kind, worth $8.5 million at the beginning of April. Legal costs amounted to nearly $750,000 for the cases.

Specialist leaky building lawyer Paul Grimshaw warned the ministry's case was unlikely to result in full compensation for damages. "It is going to be a difficult case because they [Government] will have to show that the system that James Hardie put together was negligently put together or flawed."

It could take years to resolve and only a fraction of the cost would likely be recovered, Mr Grimshaw said.


- Northern Advocate

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