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Mackintosh Fire Report Not Expected Until 2020

Thursday, October 10, 2019

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A report that’s slated to come from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service about the cause of the second fire at the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building will not be released until next year, according to officials.

The school’s interim chairwoman, Nora Kearney, told the Sunday Post that the probe of the June 2018 fire might not conclude until the end of this year or the beginning of 2020.

Fire Background

The blaze broke out in the 110-year-old Mackintosh building after 11 p.m. on June 15 last year, with 120 firefighters and 20 engines on the scene. By the time crews arrived, flames had spread to the neighboring campus nightclub and the O2 ABC music venue (one of the region’s most popular concert spots). No one was injured.

The building, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and considered to be an art nouveau grade A-listed masterpiece, also caught fire in 2014 when a projector overheated and ignited flammable gases from a foam canister that was being used for an art project, destroying about a third of the building, including its library.

The building was still undergoing a 35-million-pound ($45.3 million) renovation from that incident, led by contractor Kier Group, and was set to reopen this spring.

Officials said at the time there were no operational sprinklers at the site, but after preliminary investigation, it came to light that the building’s preview system, an update for which was 97% complete before the 2014 fire, had been removed from the building before the newest round of construction began.

Scotland’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, which conducted its own report, spoke with Stephen Mackenzie, an independent fire, security and resilience adviser, about that decision, who said he was confused to hear that the system had been removed.

“There should have been a temporary or phased installation and that could’ve been part of that basis,” Mackenzie said. “I’m incredibly puzzled to now hear that this has occurred.”

However, a spokesperson of the school said that it had sought expert advice after the 2014 fire, which rendered the system unusable and that’s why it was taken out.

Pumps for the new system had reportedly been delivered to the site and were waiting to be installed.

The committee was also informed that the ventilation ducts that were blamed for the rapid spread of the 2014 fire had not yet been remedied at the time of the 2018 fire. Though conversation architect Dawson Stelfox did note that construction safety focuses on life safety and not necessarily building safety.

“It is worth the committee looking at changes to requirements and fire safety assessments during the construction period to also take into account fire asset safety and fire spread,” he said.

Reports

The culture committee’s initial report was launched in March of this year, which accused the GSA of not keeping the building safe.

The committee’s convener, Joan McAlpine, MSP, said at the report’s launch: “The board of GSA were custodians of this magnificent building, one of the most significant to Scotland’s rich cultural heritage. They had a duty to protect Mackintosh’s legacy.”

The report also criticized the “lack of transparency” after the 2014 blaze and in the end, called for full public inquires of both fires.

The GSA responded to the report in early May, which called the public inquiry cry premature and focused instead on the report’s lack of interrogation of contractor Kier.

“I was presuming there would be many witnesses who had inside knowledge of the working of Kier, Kier’s past jobs, how they conducted themselves as a business, but they were the invisible party in the hearings,” GSA chair Muriel Gray told The Guardian.

“If you were a member of the public you would wonder why the people who were solely responsible for the site from 2016 up to and including the day of the fire were not party to the main inquiry.”

Kier had refused to release the fire plan for the building unless the committee agreed to not make it public. The committee refused and didn’t take the documents into account.

The GSA also pointed out what it calls “inaccuracies” in the report, calling out the use of the word “cladding” to describe insulation. (No cladding was involved in the restoration project.)

Now

Despite the SFRS saying in June that its report was in the “final phases,” Kearney reported that debris was still being removed from the building.

Moreover, a GSA Director of Prevention and Protection, Assistant Chief Officer Ross Haggat, confirmed that the fire service had recently just requested access to the basement. It will reportedly take two months for officials to get through that space.

“The fire investigation remains focused on likely origin and cause – but against the backdrop of an unprecedented large-scale fire scene within a complex and challenging site.

“There is no estimated timescale for the investigation being concluded, and we would like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding as we continue our efforts.”

   

Tagged categories: EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Fire; Good Technical Practice; Government; Health and safety; Renovation; Restoration; Safety

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