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Dangerous ducts at Mac had not been fire stopped, Page\Park tells MSPs

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Mac refurb architect Page\Park has admitted that ventilation ducts that helped accelerate the 2014 fire were not closed off with fire stopping measures ahead of the latest devastating blaze

Senior figures at the practice told a Holyrood committee yesterday that the voids were required for services under the approved plans for the rebuild of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1909 landmark.

Flames ripped through the Glasgow School of Art building again in June this year while Page\Park and contractor Kier were working to rebuild the icon after it sustained severe fire damage four years ago.

Head of design review at the practice David Paton told MSPs that ventilation ducts - cited in an official report as a factor in the spreading of the 2014 fire - had not been subjected to fire stopping measures at the start of the rebuild project.

’It wasn’t done at this stage because these ducts were going to be used for routing the services,’ Paton said. At the end of that process they would have been fire stopped.’

Page\Park director David Page added: ‘It remained a conservation project. We were unable to build new ducts or circulation systems, we had to work with what was there.’

But MSP Joan McAlpine, convenor of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, said after the hearing that the architect and contractor had done ‘nothing to reassure’ the MSPs.

’The admission that the ventilation ducts were not fire stopped at an early stage will shock many people given that they were found to be responsible to accelerating the 2014 fire,’ she said.

‘Despite that glaring vulnerability, there was no sprinkler system operating before 2018 and Keir admitted to the committee that the fire alarm was regularly disabled.’

Fire engineering consultants recommended the installation of sprinklers at the Glasgow School of Art building a decade ago but moves to fit them had yet to be successful.

Page told the committee that installing the sprinkler kit into the Mackintosh Building was an ‘incredibly complicated’ job and that work to complete the fire mist suppression system was underway when the second fire occurred. 

Page\Park, which has been working at the Mackintosh Building for 25 years, said in a written submission to the committee that installation of the mist suppression system was ‘very close to being completed’ when the May 2014 fire occurred.

The practice was subsequently appointed to design the recovery project after that blaze and insisted that sprinkler works were ‘proceeding in accordance with the agreed plans and programme’ at the time of this year’s blaze.

Page told the committee at yesterday’s hearing that the retrofit installation was particularly challenging because of the building’s heritage.

‘You are having to pass pipes through spaces you value,’ he said. ‘That was a major challenge for everyone, including the statutory authorities.’

Meanwhile, Paton distanced the Mackintosh fire from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, saying the make-up of the buildings was very different.

He also told MSPs that insulation placed in the roof during the latest project was installed in the manner set out by the manufacturer to ensure it would not contribute to a fire.

Brian McQuade, managing director of the rebuild project main contractor Kier Construction, said all relevant fire detection systems and processes were ‘in place and tested’.

He said a test of the fire alarm was carried out weekly and that a full evacuation drill took place in mid-May.

Asked whether it was possible that the fire alarm system had been turned off by site workers due to a number of false alarms, McQuade added: ‘There are occasions on site when these systems will trigger because of dust. There are different detectors and times when operations are carried out and a method statement put in to switch them off for that period.

‘It happened at different stages, I can’t say [the alarm system] wasn’t off [on the day of the latest fire] but I can’t imagine it would have been. We asked our staff and they said the fire alarm was operational. It is part of the investigation the fire service is going through.’

Speaking after the session, McAlpine said it was difficult to see what additional fire protection measures had been put in place to protect the ‘priceless asset’. 

’Keir was unable to share details of protection measures detailed in the insurance policy, despite being a co-signatory,’ she said. ’The contractor was also vague about what happened on the night of the 2018 fire.

‘It was also concerning to learn that the ducts were identified as a problem as far back as 2008 but were not stopped then either. We heard a sprinkler system was recommended but it was not installed immediately and we heard cost was a factor in that delay.’

Last month the committee was told that the Mac should be removed from the control of the GSA.

Former GSA employee Eileen Reid, one-time head of widening participation, said the school should step aside from the rebuild and concentrate on teaching students.

In other written evidence submitted to the committee, architect Alan Dunlop has argued that the Mac should be replaced with a modern building.

But Park said today that the skills and data were there to reconstruct the iconic structure.

’If the decision was taken to reconstruct we have the capability,’ he said.

The committee’s next evidence session, which will hear from GSA chairwoman Muriel Gray, will be on 15 November. 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Perhaps the Parliamentary Committee should have awaited the outcome of the Fire Authority's forensic investigation.

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