Posted by:18 June, 2012
Last month, the schools shortlisted to receive funding under the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP) were announced, marking a further development in an educational landscape which has seen significant recent change. This news means that 261 schools will be rebuilt or refurbished from a £2bn PFI budget whilst 42 of the highest priority schools in the programme will have access to £400m of capital funding to meet their immediate needs. Whilst the Government is still consulting on the baseline design information that will be used for PSBP, those who have been given the welcome news will likely already be starting to think about planning so this stage could be crucial for the long-term.
Schools, by their nature, have a very specific set of requirements and design risks, both for new builds and refurbishments. Any team, be they local authority or independent, needs to be conscious of these as they plan. Even though we do not know exactly what the baseline guidance will contain, we already advise on many of the construction considerations that need to be addressed. At a time when the importance of managing funds is heightened, education providers need to avoid the costs that poorly designed and maintained buildings can incur.
Schools have always presented a unique risk profile and one of the main aspects that contributes to this is the extreme use that they are asked to withstand. Constant pupil movement, coupled with the frequent use at evenings and weekends by the community, means that school buildings are subject to almost constant use. So, whilst certain cheaper materials and building methods like modular construction may keep the initial costs down, if they are not fit to withstand such a high level of strain they are far more likely to fail in the future. Keeping this knowledge front of mind when selecting the method of construction and materials to be used should reap savings in the long run.
Fire is of course one of the most significant risks to schools and our own risk profiling research shows that schools built from 2006, with sprinklers assumed, have a 40 times lower overall scale of risk than those built in the 1970s. Installing sprinklers and using construction materials that meet current fire regulations are important considerations when refurbishing existing buildings or constructing new ones. However, to ensure savings and mitigate future risks, new school buildings should seek to not only meet current standards but, if possible, exceed them. As the building ages, it becomes crucial for the initial fire protection and prevention measures to be reassessed and improved where necessary.
We also know that adverse weather, which has become increasingly common, can be damaging; not only for the buildings themselves but also for lesson continuity. Schools situated on flood plains, or on sites with inadequate drainage should prioritise these improvements as part of their upgrade. Some of the measures that can be taken during the initial construction stages include the use of water resistant materials and protection products.
So, the design and construction phase is critical as it will have a significant influence over the future of these most important of civic buildings, our schools. While these considerations are by no means exhaustive they do present a way of thinking that needs to be adopted by schools across the country when assessing their refurbishment needs. School buildings need to be designed both to last and withstand the risks associated with their purpose. While some of these can be difficult to predict, it is possible to make the right decisions now to benefit their long term future.
Andrew Jepp, director of Public Services at Zurich Municipal talks about the nature of public service risk