The London Borough of Hounslow is taking a proactive approach to meeting the school places challenge in its local area and is working with partners to devise and deliver a solution. David Nisbet, Partner at Pick Everard, discusses the approach and the results achieved so far.
The pressure to meet an ever-increasing demand for school places is one that has been felt by local authorities across the UK for a number of years, with the requirement for places across primary, secondary and special education on the rise.
In 2012, the Hounslow Council commissioned property, construction and infrastructure consultancy Pick Everard to deliver multiple new primary, secondary and special education needs school places over a five-year period within challenging cost parameters. The requirement for new school places in Hounslow is extensive and as such, a dedicated multidisciplinary team has been allocated to develop the new and improved facilities.
The £300m Capital Expansion Programme once completed will have delivered 3,000 new primary places, a further 5,000 in secondary education and 600 new SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) places.
Since the Capital Expansion Programme was established, more than 6,000 school places have been created by the local authority:
- 2,840 primary school
- 2,820 secondary school
- 440 SEN
Working in partnership, Pick Everard has contributed significantly to this successful outcome, with new buildings and extensions at 24 primary, infant and junior schools, and some selected secondary schools. Alongside this, the firm has also undertaken a programme of dedicated refurbishment and new-build projects to expand nine of the borough’s existing SEND sites culminating in substantial new build, all through specialist schools.
Unlike many traditional school expansion and improvement schemes, Hounslow presented the team with a series of unique challenges as a result of the borough’s location under the flight path for Heathrow Airport. At its busiest, one plane lands or takes off here approximately every minute — meaning potential disruption to the teaching and learning environments sitting below.
Working in collaboration with our acoustic sub-consultants to undertake detailed surveys at each school to determine exactly what impact the aircraft noise has on each site and what measures must be employed to mitigate this to provide a high-quality learning environment.
Findings from these early site investigations allowed us to develop an affordable yet flexible design concept, incorporating a highly insulated concrete structural envelope combined with a sophisticated ventilation strategy, balancing noise insulation with thermal comfort. This bespoke acoustic design was adapted and applied to the new buildings as well as pre-existing schools throughout the programme, demonstrating value for money while delivering top quality facilities for staff and pupils.
The completed projects have all been designed to withstand the effects of the evolving environment and any impact it might bring on the schools such as the Heathrow Airport expansion.
Delivering best value
An important part of ensuring best value and devising the most appropriate solutions was delivering an innovative approach throughout. As well as assessing the most suitable route for each project — an extension or refurbishment, or a full new-build — for each individual school requirement, we also worked to deliver savings through modern methods of construction.
We also implemented BIM throughout the programme to achieve an integrated approach, advancing designs and increasing stakeholder engagement during the design. For example:
- BIM training through free workshops to help the client understand and use the data efficiently
- Producing 3D walkthroughs and visuals to share with key stakeholders
As well as addressing the need for additional school places across Hounslow, the programme has also delivered a number of benefits for the local community.
Some 30% of the workforce involved in this series of projects lived within 40 miles of the site and the entire supply chain spend was delivered through SMEs — ensuring a positive economic impact locally.
It is hoped that sports facilities included within school projects across the borough will be available for wider community use outside of school hours in addition to pupils and teachers during term time — creating an important legacy for local people and benefitting not only school children but their families and neighbours.
Building in value was vital for the London Borough of Hounslow, which needed to keep to strict budgets and timescales throughout the programme — and this needed to be balanced with the requirement to deliver high quality new teaching and learning spaces. As well as looking at ways to save money on the actual build costs — through developing a standardised palette of materials and considering various modern methods of construction — Pick Everard worked with the client to provide construction solutions that will deliver value through greater longevity and reduced maintenance during the whole building life.
New-build or extension?
This was most clearly demonstrated when initial plans proposed an extension to Hounslow Town Primary School but, upon examining the project in further detail, it was identified that a new-build scheme on an adjacent site would actually offer better value and provide a long-term solution to pupil provision for the local authority. Not only did this mean that the school could be delivered with less disruption, but it also acted as a catalyst for further projects, including a brand new music centre for the community to use.
Pick Everard is working with the London Borough of Hounslow into 2020, completing an estimated £120m of school projects across the borough. It is expected that this second phase will be completed in September 2020.