Off-Site Solutions Recognised by Department of Education

The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, announced in 2004 by New Labour, planned on renovating or rebuilding every English secondary school in a £55 billion scheme.

BSF was cancelled due to coalition spending cuts on the 5th of July 2010, and 719 schools that had been in pre-construction stages were left unable to proceed with their plans. A further 706 schools, having already signed contracts with private construction companies, are to go ahead with works, but have been forced to make substantial savings.

The future for the 719 leftover schools looked bleak. However, a leading off-site construction company have offered up a solution using modular and off-site techniques to lower the cost and enable the remaining schools to be built. A company representative spoke with Milton Keynes MP, Iain Stuart in September, explaining the benefits of off-site construction, and the options available for building schools from standardised modules.

Stewart proceeded to put forward this representation to the Department of Education, and received the following response from Lord Hill, who is responsible for schools capital policy:

“The purpose is to ensure that future capital investment represents good value for money and strongly supports the Government’s ambitions to reduce the deficit, raise standards and tackle disadvantage. Off-site construction…is one of the options under consideration by the Capital Review.”

Lord Hill gave his thanks for raising modular construction methods to his attention and has passed it on to the Capital Review team who he was sure would “find it of value”.

Modular construction techniques provide a cost-effective and efficient alternative to traditional building methods, with a wealth of design opportunity available.

The off-site industry is striving to remove the preconceptions of modular buildings – the modern capabilities being a far cry from the portable classrooms of the 50s – and to show the design flexibility off-site construction can offer.

Modular construction offers broad design flexibility contrary to preconceptions of ‘boxy’ prefabricated buildings of the past. The beauty of many off-site buildings is that they have developed tremendously in terms of visual appeal, and it is often impossible to distinguish them from a traditionally constructed building. Essentially, a menu can be created for schools to be built from, that architects can help to visualise and create.

Innovation in modular buildings over the past 10 years has been significant, making off-site construction even more relevant to the education sector. Corner-Loaded Modules are available that increase design flexibility and generate significant cost savings on site and throughout the life of a building. These hybrid buildings are based around a steel frame, which provides greater architectural freedom in an economical and space-efficient building system. This type of system means the building designer can ‘break out of the box’ and specify modules that are non-rectangular or have internal atria or balconies. The design scope is extensive and this also includes the possibility of corner-to-corner glazed walls, a feature that is becoming very popular in schools.

Off-site capabilities also include energy efficient and sustainable building techniques and materials, as well as a range of environmental additions such as sun tubes and rainwater harvesting. The Hybred® is an innovative modular building solution which offers the potential to achieve ‘A’ rated energy performance, an environmental consideration that is becoming an increasingly important target for schools.

Modular building has been proven to reduce programme times by 50% (PSLG Building June 2010 pp48). The reduction of project time and increased speed of construction mean that buildings can be erected in weeks rather than months; there are no weather constraints as units can be made watertight before arriving on site; and cost certainty can be achieved, because the industry and its techniques are far more predictable than tradition building methods. Statistics show that 99% of off-site projects are completed on time and budget (PSLG Building June 2010 pp48).

With off-site starting out with the prefabricated classrooms of the 50s and 60s, the modular industry has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to meeting schools’ needs. Schools lie at the heart of the community, which means they are often located in built-up residential areas, where long term construction work could cause a nuisance to local residents. Similarly, because of where they are located, access is often difficult and normally restricted. Added to this are the tight deadlines which are imposed due to the need for construction works to be carried out mainly during the school holidays, in order to minimise disruption and prevent health and safety issues on site. Six weeks during the summer is a small window of opportunity in the construction world – and even shorter if you are looking at Christmas, Easter or half term breaks. Being able to create a weathertight seal, often in days, means that even during a two-week half term, the building can be in place with work progressing in the internals – and minimal disruption to the day-to-day activities of the school.

Off-site construction has long presented an attractive option to schools and, in many cases…it is the only practical option.

A leading UK provider of off site construction solutions, Terrapin [http://www.terrapin-ltd.co.uk/education.php] has been in the business of permanent and temporary solutions for 60 years. Off site construction delivers fast, accurate and affordable solutions to permanent, temporary and relocatable building requirements for healthcare, education, developer and commercial projects.

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