Prison project went 70% above budget after unforeseen issues with asbestos, wiring, and fire alarm system

A project to extend and modernise the Irish Prison Service College ran 70% over budget after running into a litany of unforeseen problems including asbestos and sub-standard wiring.

The project to redevelop Brian Stack House in Portlaoise was hoped to cost €4.26 million; however, the final bill ended up being just over €7.25 million.

A post-project review carried out by the Irish Prison Service sa­id the job had “quickly encountered challenges” that led to unforeseen delays and additional costs.

Asbestos was discovered and there was a lack of evidence that a previous survey from 2001 on the presence of asbestos had been dealt with properly.

There were problems with wiring in bedrooms – where prison officers would be accommodated while training – which was not of the “anticipated standard”.

Service pipes and cables were discovered below where the extension was set to be built, requiring “remediation and rerouting”.

The fire alarm system in the building was found to be non-compliant with modern requirements and ground conditions were not what had been expected.

In addition, the sewerage system was found to be “incapable” of serving the modernised facility and needed to be upgraded.

As well as the “unanticipated conditions” encountered, there were also significant changes to the project while it was underway.

This included upgrades of bedrooms, changes to external landscaping, enhanced work to the kitchen and canteen, and the development of a gym facility.

An analysis of the financial performance of the project said technical and consultancy fees were expected to be €148,147.

However, the final bill for those services came in at €270,709, an “excess cost” of 83%.

The construction and fitout of the building was predicted to cost around €4.11 million, according to the post-project review.

However, the final tally came to €6.98 million, 70% above what had been anticipated.

Among the costliest items of “major change” were €334,000 for bedroom wiring, €327,000 for sewerage works, and €178,000 for the installation of a new fire alarm system.

The review also said the actual period on site of the project had ended up being around 70 weeks between 2017 and 2018, compared to the 50 weeks “originally estimated”.

College management also raised concerns over the level of consultation on the project, the report said.

They claimed there hadn’t been enough time given to consider potential risks at the start of the project, especially around renovating an old building.

College management also said insufficient time was allocated to multiple other aspects of the project including electrical specifications, an intruder alarm system, works to the canteen, furniture specification, and the location of the gym.

The report did find that procurement and sanctioning on the project had operated well with no major areas of concern discovered.

It also said the extended and completed facility when it opened was “fundamentally and extensively superior” to what had been there before.

Asked about the review, a spokesman for the Irish Prison Service said: “During the construction phases, significant challenges were encountered which needed to be addressed.

“In the case of the Irish Prison Service College project, major risks were identified in relation to fire safety and compliance with the relevant building regulations, particularly for older part of the premises.

“[A post project review of this project was] completed in order to identify lessons learned and they have informed significant changes to the way projects are planned, appraised and delivered.”