St Catherine's College, which faces major closures due to concerns over RAAC safety.
St Catherine's College, which faces major closures due to concerns over RAAC safety.

St Catz buildings closed due to RAAC concerns

Major parts of St Catherine’s College will be restricted due to concerns over reinforced autoclave aerated concrete (RAAC), The Oxford Student can reveal.

The College, designed in the 1960s by Danish architect Arne Jacobsen, “uses RAAC in certain areas of its site” according to an email by College Master Kersti Borjars.

Borjars stated that older areas would be subject to “risk assessments”. While those assessments take place, the College has “[restricted] access” to key areas. Admission will not be permitted, unless it is granted by the College’s Home Bursar.

These areas include the top floors of the College’s main staircases, the JCR and SCR, the Hall, and the Library. A large number of 1st and 3rd year undergraduates live on the top floors of the main college staircases. 2nd-year accommodation in New Quad will not be affected.

Borjars added that the College’s “expectation” is that “appropriate mitigations will be in place before the start of term”.

A University spokesperson told The Oxford Student that at the moment “there are no identified cases of RAAC materials”, but to maintain safety their “internal surveyors are conducting an internal review, and preparing a training pack for wider awareness”.

They promise “to be vigilant when completing building surveys and maintenance activities” as well as to “take necessary action if required”.

This follows hundreds of educational settings closing due to concerns regarding the safety of concrete roof panels. In August, a roof panel deemed safe by inspectors collapsed in a school in England.

On the 7th of September, the government unveiled a list of 147 schools which were identified as containing unsafe RAAC. However, this figure is likely to increase, as the list is only up to date as of the 30th of August.

The scandal is continuing to grow. This was reflected at Prime Minister’s Questions on the 7th, where the government was likened to ‘cowboy builders’ by Keir Starmer. In response, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated that Starmer was ‘Captain Hindsight’ as he had not previously mentioned the issue at a despatch box.

Sunak added that £2.6bn would be spent this year on “school maintenance and rebuilding”. However, this does not match the £4bn that the Department for Education stated would be needed to “mitigate” the most serious risks.

Axel Roy Lee, the college’s JCR President, stated in an email to students that the College has “not released any official statement to the JCR committee or student body”. He added that, to his knowledge, the “College is now urgently figuring out how to deal with this problem” and that students can expect to receive a statement “in the next few days”, with Lee having “contacted the College administration” for “an explanation and timeline”.

St Catherine’s College has been contacted for comment.

This article was updated to reflect comments from the college’s JCR President and a statement on behalf of the University of Oxford.