Faulty Westminster Academy building ‘made pupils ill’

Designers sued for �3million by Department for Education amid claims bad ventilation caused below par exam results

Faulty ventilation at an iconic Harrow Road secondary school has led to students being sent home with illnesses and underperforming in exams, says Education Secretary Michael Gove who is suing the designers for �3million.

Westminster Academy and the Secretary of State have joined forces to take BDP to the High Court over alleged building defects.

The school has won 15 design awards and was nominated for the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize.

The claim accuses BDP of providing a defective ventilation system, failing to design a sports hall fit for purpose and causing delays to the build which resulted in additional costs.

Completed in 2007, the building is heralded in the school’s prospectus as “an excellent learning environment, comparable with the best schools in the country.”

It was recognised with a RIBA Award in 2008 when it narrowly missed out on the Stirling Prize.

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But the High Court claim states that there has been a lack of air flow in a number of classrooms and laboratories since the school opened.

The school has a special ventilation system with all windows sealed to block out noise from the Westway.

“In the summer months, temperatures have exceeded 30C,” states the claim.

“Such temperatures are unbearable for staff and students at the school.

“They have resulted in numerous complaints by staff, students and parents, staff and students becoming unwell with some having to be sent home and instances of poor/inadequate exam performances on the part of some students.”

It goes on to say that the lack of ventilation is “detrimental to the well-being of the students at the school” with more than �13,000 having been spent on temporary cooling measures.

Mr Gove and Westminster Academy also allege blockwork used in the sports hall walls was prone to cracking and that “BDP developed and released design information late and inadequately”.

School governor and Westbourne ward councillor David Boothroyd says the ventilation problem has been an ongoing issue which makes it a difficult environment to teach in.

A BDP spokeswoman said: “This dispute has arisen between BDP and the academy in relation to outstanding fees and certain aspects of the project.

“We are currently liaising with other members of the design team and assembling our defence and are still optimistic that a speedy resolution can be found.”

Spokesmen for the school and the Department for Education said they couldn’t comment as legal proceedings had begun.