Of Leaking Schools

The recent High Court decision holding Hawkins Construction liable to pay $13.4m plus GST to repair a leaky school[1] has been in the news, probably because of the size of the judgment (though it's not the biggest leaky building judgment) and that it is a school with a role of nearly 2000.

But the case itself was a fairly conventional application of the well-settled law in the area, perhaps to be expected 20 years or so after the problems first arose.  What is of interest is the human side to the judgment: met with technical arguments supported by a 'phalanx' of experts that defects which were causing leaks weren't breaches of the Building Code, the judge appears to have mostly been persuaded by the evidence of the school occupants: teachers, the caretaker, etc, that the building had always leaked when it rained.  One said that to write down each instance of leaking in the ceiling would have taken 40 pages!

This needs to be remembered when considering how to deal with the public buildings affected in this way: schools, hospitals. NZ's building stock remains blighted by this problem. This school was fortunate, in one sense, that the problems occurred so soon after construction that a claim was still possible against the builder (assuming it remains solvent). The problem of how to remediate affected buildings with the least disruption to the people who occupy them will continue long after the ability to hold parties accountable has passed.

[1] Minister of Education v H Construction North Island Ltd (Formerly Hawkins Construction North Island Ltd) [2018] NZHC 871 [1 May 2018