Concerns over damaged Portland Primary building

It is back to rotational schooling for Portland Primary School pupils who will attend classes in temporary structures after one of their school buildings have been condemned.

Upset parents protested at Portland Primary School as a block on the school premises is damaged, raising concerns for pupils’ safety and education.

The damaged block will affect the schooling of Grade 4 to Grade 7 pupils. The education department is expected to erect temporary structures on the Portland Primary field and the school will have pupils attend school on a rotational basis.

The Plainsman spoke to upset parents who have been protesting at the school and who have expressed concerns about pupils’ safety and their education.

Parents protested at the school on Thursday July 21 to emphasise the urgency of this matter and to pressurise the WCED and their contractors to put time-frames in place and step up on the setting of temporary classes.

The block that is damaged have windows broken, cracked walls, some steps have broken off, the steel can be seen in the concrete flooring, the lights are not working and the balcony expansion gaps are widening and unsafe.

The flooring is currently being held up by beams of steel wrapped in wood.

Parents outside the school gate on Thursday July 21.

Charles Manuel, school governing body spokesperson, said the entire block has structural problems. It is through years of deterioration and at some stage can cause a collapse, he said.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has appointed contractors to get this fixed.

The building is in a state that it cannot be used by anyone at this stage until a full and proper evaluation is concluded by the WCED appointed engineering company, Mr Manuel said.

The damaged building has been cordoned off, preventing access to pupils and staff. The only access is through the construction team.

“Nobody can make use of this building and access it. It has been cordoned off. The school will make the back gate available for the construction team only,” he said.

The school will function on a rotational basis. Grade 7s will be at school every day while Grade R to Grade 3 will rotate as well as Grade 4 to Grade 5.

The structures are to be erected by next week. The WCED and the school are liaising on the amount of structures.

“Structural defects have been reported to the WCED since 2012. There have been follow-ups through emails by the respective school governing bodies (SGBs) throughout the years. The school followed the process in order for the repairs to happen,” said Mr Manuel.

Principal Eleanor Braaf said temporary classrooms will be erected on the school field to have affected classes continue.

“We want pupils to be out of danger. Our pupils need to be in a safe environment. We’re not allowing teachers into the block as it’s unsafe. We need feedback for pupils and teachers to move from classrooms to the structures,” she said.

Ms Braaf said parent support for academics is needed especially if pupils are at home. “Their education is important to us and we want our Grade 7s especially to get into the best schools next year. Let us do the baby steps,” she said.

Ebrahim Arendse, former chairperson of Portland Primary SGB, said this problem dates back to approximately 2012.

“Every year the repair list was deferred. They will mention the amount and what must be done from the school’s money. The structural damage has been coming on for 10 years now with so much decay,” he said.

“I’ve been around the building thousands of times. On the damaged building you can see the concrete, if it rains the water runs down to class. The walkway on the balcony has started to drift apart. Railings were galvanised years ago. It has become rusted and broken and unsafe for pupils to stand there but there’s only so much we can do with the money the school receives,” said Mr Arendse.

The parents were at a meeting on Wednesday July 20 where the matter was brought to light, which raised concerns for parents, he said.

Oleander Oakes, chairperson of the Portland Ratepayers’ Association, chairperson of the Portland sub-forum and Ward 78 committee member, said when she was made aware of the state the school was in about a year ago during the Covid pandemic, she in turn informed councillors, the premier and the WCED about the situation in 2021.

Ms Oakes said she received no response – presumably as she is not a parent.

At the meeting on Wednesday, some parents were not aware of the dire situation at the school as due to Covid-19 parents were not allowed on the school premises.

Ms Oakes said the building is not safe. She said when standing on the balcony it moves and has spaces in-between, “which is a scary sight”. “We await preparations to fix this,” she said.

Saul Markgraff, proportional representation (PR) councillor for the Good Party, said he was asked to come to the school by parents. “Engagement should be had with neighbouring schools to assist,” he said.

A parent of Portland Primary who didn’t want to be named said the teachers and principal cannot be blamed as they are fulfilling their job. “The school is falling apart. If we weren’t here today the WCED wouldn’t have addressed us,” he said.

“The WCED is only doing things in a reactionary manner. My child’s already a year behind in education. You’re putting us further behind because of your planning and it is disgraceful. You need to start acting,” he said. “If anything happens to our children, we’re going to have to take responsibility.”

Parent Zainab Franke said the damaged block directly affects her children. “My anger goes out to the WCED, we’ve not been regularly informed on this issue. My children’s lives are more important than education. Parents need to stand together and not fight our school and teachers and let the department handle it,” she said.

Another parent Sharon Goliath said gathering the parents together should have happened long ago. “We can’t have our parents do home schooling again. They need the teachers. I don’t mind my child being at home but this needs to happen. Our children need to get the education they deserve, especially those going to high school,” she said.

Mitchell’s Plain SAPS spokesperson, Zandi Langa said the protest that took place on Thursday was peaceful. She said no children have been injured in the damage building and the building has been cordoned off.

WCED spokesperson, Bronagh Hammond, said an assessment by a forensic engineer found that four classrooms in the outer block of the school were deemed to be a risk in terms of structural defects.

These classrooms were not being used. However, the WCED decided to cordon off the whole block of classrooms, to mitigate risk. Twelve mobile classrooms are being procured currently Ms Hammond said.

“Movement in the structure has caused structural defects, which need repair. The building has been propped and we await the detailed scope of repair work required from the structural engineer. The extent of damage to the building was made clear to us in July 2022, following reports, in 2019, that indicated upgrades were required and so the department acted accordingly,” she said.

The education department’s district office will be supporting the school with learner resource packs for additional support.

“We will continue to work with the school’s management team to ensure that our pupils are able to learn in a safe environment. The safety of our pupils is of utmost importance to us,” Ms Hammond said.