The Glasgow School of Art was warned by its own experts that there was a "high risk" of a hazard posed by fire at the world-famous Mackintosh Building with the potential for it to spread eight years before a blaze consumed the Scottish national treasure.

The Herald on Sunday can reveal that a dossier cautioned over a "real threat" that any fire at the iconic Mackintosh Building would not be detected quickly enough and could cause "considerable damage" as it spread through the building.

The GSA has now been condemned for putting lives at risk by not acting at the very start to properly protect the Mack which has since been hit by two devastating fires in the space of four years.

It can be revealed that the 2006 investigation lists concerns over "limited structural fire protection" at the national monument with "no fire fighting measures within the building other than portable extinguishers".

The analysis states that it was "obvious that a fire posed a very real and present danger to the building and its contents".

But plans to install a mist water fire suppression system following their expert advice in 2008 was not complete before the disastrous 2014 blaze.

The GSA insist that the building was "fully compliant and safe" otherwise the fire service and building control would not have allow it to be used.

The Herald:

They say that the expert report was used to inform the school how it could go "above and beyond".

It said it would be "wholly inaccurate" to say anything other than that the building was "fully compliant".

The crippling blaze which hit the Mack on May 23, 2014 was followed four years later by another fire which destroyed the iconic Category A-listed building as it neared the end of a multi-million pound restoration project.

A fire suppressing sprinkler system which had long been advocated after the 2014 blaze was also in the process of being installed when a second blaze engulfed the Mack.

The failures have also led to concerns over governance at the GSA and fears that its insurance claim could be rejected.

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Concerns emerged earlier this week that the reinstatement of the masterpiece originally designed by renowned Scots architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh have stalled and serious questions have been raised over whether the £100m+ restoration project will ever happen.

The Herald revealed a GSA admission that a failure to provide adequate temporary fire protection for the world-renowned Mackintosh Building in the wake of its 2014 while restoration work was being carried out caused the devastation of a repeat blaze four years later.

But in court papers, it blamed advice it received from Glasgow-based Arrest Fire and Security Ltd specialists over fire alarm and protection measures brought in that  GSA said were not suitable and is currently suing them for damages which could run into millions.

Arrest has said it is "100%" contesting the GSA allegations insisting that their system installed while restoration works were being carried should not be blamed and that the school's version of events was "incorrect". 

Professor Alan Dunlop, one of Scotland's leading architects who once put his hat in the ring to become the next chair of the GSA and is a stakeholder consultee for the Mack reinstatement project was deeply concerned by the latest revelations.

The Herald:

He said: "It is bad enough there was a possibility that should the building catch fire, it would be destroyed, but more important than that there were lives at risk here."

Prof Dunlop, who attended the Mackintosh School of Architecture between 1983 and 1986, added: "Even though I am an advocate of Mackintosh and recognise how important this building is, the fact that people could have been killed as a consequence of this, is even worse than the possibility of the building being destroyed.

He believed the issues over fire protection showed a "massive weakeess" in GSA governance and feared that it would affect any insurance payout.

"There was a careless attitude to fire in the building."

"I would hate to think what would have happened had the building been occupied. As serious as this whole thing is this could have been a tragedy.

"What has been revealing in The Herald's series over the GSA fires is the school's refusal to admit culpability."

A GSA spokesman said it made a submission to MSPs after the 2018 blaze that the Mack was always fully fire compliant and that it was working to enhance the fire protection and had raised funding for the sprinkler system which was in the process of being installed. It is understood this related to events before the 2018 blaze.

The 2006 analysis by consulting engineers and advisers Buro Happold warned that there were "many routes for fire and smoke to spread" and that there were "ignition sources present".

It said that many of the escape routes were "not adequately protected" and warned that the automatic fire detection system did not provide full coverage.

The fire engineering consultants told the GSA that the Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service would view the building as presenting a "higher risk to that of a standard modern commercial property".

Is stated: "Due to the historic nature and value of the property and many of its contents, a fire poses a great threat.

The Herald:

Flashback to the 2014 Mack blaze: Chairwoman of the board of governors Muriel Gray

"Many of the existing features /operational procedures within the building fail to comply with modern fire safety requirements / legislation and could potentially cause, or contribute significantly to a fire within the building."

Two years later a feasibility study of fire protection solutions by the same GSA advisers found that "only water mist suppression" was a "viable option".

It said that the possibility of a fire "threatening the building and contents, as a whole must be considered and provision made for it".

Glasgow School of Art fires: read the series in full here

It found that the likelhood and potential for fire occurring in the building and the potential for it to remain undetected was a medium to high risk. It said the consequences in the event of the fire spread were "high".

Various systems were considered that would extinguish, control or suppress growing fires, including sprinklers but it was felt it was "aesthetically more intrusive than mist". It was rejected due to the "plant and pipework space requirement, a potential for significant loss of and/or damage to contents" and a difficulty over the need for drainage.

A water mist system, however, would use "significant less water" than sprinklers. It was estimated that a high pressure mist system would use as much as 90% less water than traditional sprinklers.

Similar mist systems had already been installed at the National Portrait Gallery in London, the La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, USA.

An indicative price for the system only, without other various other costs such as labour, of £420,000 was quoted for the water miste installation in advance of a full building survey.

But the study warned that having no new fixed system with reliance on extinguishers and fire service intervention should be rejected due to "high potential of property loss, collateral damage and fire-fighter safety issues".

The study said having no system meant that there was a "high risk of total loss if fire gets a good hold and response is delayed".

It said that given the issues with "voids and lack of compartmentation" there was a potential for considerable smoke contamination of the whole building and a safety issue for "manual fire fighting".

Catriona Stewart and Martin Williams speak to Professor Alan Dunlop about the Glasgow School of Art fires

According to a School of Art post-2018 blaze analysis, the installation of the water mist fire suppression system at the listed Mack was "far from straightforward".

Once it had obtained approval in principle from Historic Scotland, Glasgow City Council and their insurers in 2009, they said they had to secure funding.

Approaches to Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund were unsuccessful and the GSA initiated an external fundraising exercise, which started in 2009 and lasted until autumn 2012, collecting £520,000.

The GSA say the contractor started work on the scheme on July 2013, one month after getting listed building consent for the work.

But four months later asbestos in a void space was discovered above the main entrance area posing what the GSA said was an "unacceptable health and safety risk when students, staff and visitors were still using the building".

The discovery halted the process temporarily but further delayed the installation of the fire safety measure.

Despite warnings after the 2014 blaze, the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) stated that "it was understood" that automatic sprinklers had not been fully fitted at the time of the 2018 blaze due to the building undergoing refurbishment.

A review of the GSA estate's functionality and ‘usability’ which was undertaken in 2016 by consultants, two years before the second blaze rated the building condition at the lowest rating of D - which meant it was "inoperable or at serious risk of major failure or breakdown".

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service concluded that the 2014 fire broke out after flammable gases from a canister of expanding foam used in a student project were ignited after coming into contact with the hot surface of a projector.

Despite warnings after the 2014 blaze, the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) stated that "it was understood" that automatic sprinklers had not been fully fitted due to the building undergoing refurbishment.

The SFRS investigation in the wake of the 2018 fire found that a fire warning system was fitted throughout the site, consisting of a fire alarm panel, break glass call points, sounders, and detection units for smoke and carbon monoxide and that this "should have provided early warning in case of fire in unoccupied areas".

But the service said it was "unclear" whether the system met the requirements of British Standard (BS)5839 or if any testing or maintenance procedures were in place.

It reveals that the first possible indication of fire in the vicinity was noticed 1 hour and 34 minutes before the first 999 call at 11.19pm on the day of the fire.

The SFRS probe states that there was evidence that there had been a number of faults ongoing with the fire warning system (FWS) and scaffolding movement alarm systems (SMAS).

The Herald:

"There is no evidence to indicate anything unusual or untoward in or around the building earlier that day or during the evening although, it has been evidenced in statements that a number of faults were ongoing with the SMAS and the FWS. There is no record of the faults in either system (these were lost in the fire), so the nature of the faults remains unclear."

Some MSPs are known to have questioned whether the fire alarm system was operational on the night of the fire but the Scottish Parliament's culture, tourism, Europe and external affairs committee in its assessment said it was "not in a position to determine whether it was switched on and fully operational".

A GSA spokesman said that information surrounding the fires has been available in the public domain for many years.