Stoke school forced to close classrooms in asbestos scare

Nine rooms at one of Stoke’s biggest primary schools have been closed off due to an asbestos scare, the Stoke Sentinel has reported.

Sutherland Primary Academy, in Blurton, is now bidding for emergency Government cash to remove the asbestos after it emerged the repair work could cost up to £2 million.

The problems came to a head this term when staff noticed cracks and bubbling on some walls. The cordoned off areas include several classrooms, the main hall, store rooms, the boys’ toilets and part of the kitchen.

It has meant relocating pupils to other rooms and reducing the school’s dining space. Headteacher Garry Boote today stressed the move was just a precaution and it was still safe for children to attend lessons. He said:

“We are awaiting technical advice and will be exploring all options. They range from smaller scale repairs through to the worst case scenario, which could mean shutting the building.

Our number one priority is making sure people are in a safe environment.”

Now Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello is urging Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to intervene. He met with staff at the school on Friday to discuss concerns

So far, all tests have shown the building is safe and pupils are being kept away from affected rooms. But Mr Flello said:

“It’s very worrying and clearly needs resolving sharpish. I shall be writing to the Education Secretary and trying to get a meeting with her officials.”

Sutherland’s building dates back 60 years and the asbestos used in its construction is starting to decay.

Mr Boote continued:

“We’ve had 33 separate air tests carried out by specialists and all of them have shown the air is safe. But there was an increased risk, so we took remedial steps and closed down the affected rooms.

To remove the asbestos has been estimated at between £1 million and £2 million. That’s beyond us.”

The school lodged a bid to the Education Funding Agency last year, but it was turned down as the repairs were not classed as a priority. Since then, the problems have got worse and Mr Boote said he was confident they will qualify for help this time round.

He added that they are going to make a case that there’s the potential that the school to have to close.

Pupils normally use the main hall and a separate dining hall at lunchtimes. But now one of the rooms is out of action, some youngsters may have to eat in classrooms. If more rooms become affected, the school could run out of alternative teaching space.

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Mr Boote said they hoped to re-open some areas following further investigative work. Sutherland, which has more than 500 pupils, is working with Stoke-on-Trent City Council on contingency plans.

Deputy leader Councillor Abi Brown said:

“The safety of children is our, and the academy’s, first concern. The academy has acted responsibly over the issue, and we will continue to provide support until the situation is resolved.”

Parents today gave a mixed reaction, with some claiming the school should have acted earlier. Olga Gielazys has two daughters at Sutherland. The 31-year-old, from Blurton, said:

“It’s good they are sorting it out. But £2 million is a lot of money. It is going to be expensive to repair.”

According to the GMB union, which represents school support staff, more than 75 per cent of state schools contain asbestos. It wants to see the phased removal of the substance in schools across the country.

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