“Flatpack” schools, such as this design by Capita Symonds and Wates, could still be adopted by individual contractors.
James Review’s standardised solution approach expected to be ditched
Leading schools architects are working on “kit-of-parts” approaches to school building in anticipation that ministers will disregard key proposals from the James Review.
The review, carried out by Sebastian James, group operations director at Dixons, earlier this year recommended establishing a central body that would procure standardised schools on behalf of local authorities.
But many industry insiders now expect ministers to seek a less prescriptive approach. Former RIBA president Sunand Prasad said that if the government adopted standardised solutions, it would have to ensure substantial volumes of schools were built in order to keep costs down.
He warned: “Even if you build every school that can be afforded in the current climate, the numbers are not looking very optimal for serious standardisation across the board. But the industry is producing solutions.”
Contractor Galliford Try has appointed architects Sheppard Robson, Scott Brownrigg and Sarah Wigglesworth to work on a standardised construction method dubbed “optimum schools”.
Tony Poole, partner at Sheppard Robson, said: “We looked at how we could assemble schools as efficiently as possible but make them adaptable to different sites, conditions and constraints.”
Michael Olliff, group director of education at Scott Brownrigg, added: “You can’t have a standardised school but you can have a standardised approach based on a standard kit of parts.”
Galliford Try is one of several firms examining solutions in the expectation that ministers will ask contractors to suggest ways of building schools more efficiently.
Michael Buchanan, education director at Galliford Try, said architects would be central to this process. “Our solution is much more likely to be achieved if you have early contractor and design team involvement,” he said.
Willmott Dixon, Wates, Capita Symonds and Laing O’Rourke are also working up proposals, while Cartwright Pickard Architects has been working on its own solution called Nurture Future, which uses pre-cast concrete.
James Pickard said: “One of the reasons Building Schools for the Future was so expensive was that each school was a prototype. Architects love design prototypes but they are very expensive.
“We believe it’s possible to build perfectly good schools for less money using a degree of standardisation. That doesn’t mean every school has to look the same.”
Tim Byles, former BSF chief, agreed that, while the government might seek to impose restrictions on building costs, it was likely to seek design solutions from contractors and architects.
“We want to use the skills in the design world to make sure we get appropriate, sustainable buildings at good value for money,” he said.
Optimum schools are one of several options being devised which could provide a standardised solution to school building.
The concept has been likened to that of a Lego set, providing a kit of components that can reduce construction costs while maintaining the flexibility to respond to individual sites and clients.
Michael Buchanan, education director at Galliford Try, said this approach was favourable to a design template set by central government.
“We don’t think templates work because most sites are urban, constrained and may involve extending an existing building,” he said. “That’s not to say you can’t have a large degree of standardisation — 80% of a school building is fairly standard; the other 20% is the critical bit.”
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