School Building Cost vs Design Excellence

School Building Cost vs Design Excellence

There is an ongoing argument in school development circles: good design versus out-turn costs.

A t a recent school opening (part new build, part refurbishment) the speakers were at pains to criticise contractor design and build procurement as detrimental to the process of delivering good quality school buildings. This is not uncommon, particularly as the main speaker was an architect who had originally been instructed by the school, but was then novated post contract to the main contractor.

The speaker panel also included the School Head, an educationalist and a trustee of a multi academy trust. A passionate debate ensued on the subject of good design versus out-turn costs. The subject matter was the school, but in reality they could have been discussing a building in any other sector. The school head was very happy with the new facilities, reflecting upon the immense improvement to pupil’s education; the educationalist advocated that excellence in design was necessary to deliver excellence in education, whilst the trustee felt that education was about people and that buildings were secondary, but acknowledged that some functional elements of building design were essential.

The trustee had a very pragmatic view of affordable design and acknowledged it was critical to ensure life cycle costs formed an essential part of the brief. The essence of the discussion moved from the form of procurement to the delivery of the design. Good design for schools should not be expensive and affordable capital and whole life cycle costs should be central to the definition of good design.

In this age of austerity, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) is seeking to reverse historical trends of expensive school costs, such as the halted Building Schools for the Future programme and more recently Phase 1 of the Priority School Building Programme. The focus is on delivering the essential requisite standards at affordable cost levels and less on the desirables.

The RIBA report – ‘Better spaces for learning’- highlights the challenges facing the EFA, particularly with the move to centralisation through academisation and free school delivery. The need to accommodate unique local circumstances for each project is important and the RIBA summarised the report’s proposals around three themes:

  1. Improved communications and information;
  2. A more flexible approach to the rules governing the design and size of new schools to allow for the best possible use of resources and;
  3. Taking a smarter approach to the use of building management systems.

The RIBA believe the government should review how current centrally delivered school projects are working and that the professionals designing and building schemes should be given greater flexibility, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach. The RIBA report is a good read and the call for a review is appropriate to ensure we are learning lessons and adapt as we move forward. We need to ensure the next cycle of schools delivered prompts positive news reading in the next few decades.

The need for flexibility to reflect local circumstances makes sense but how can this be controlled? It requires experienced resources to be available and this is expensive. The industry is currently resource light and the need for robust documentation defining standards and quality requirements to capture design is critical, together with the expertise to manage the delivery of quality. Contractor design and build as a procurement process is much maligned but with the right platform and management in place it can deliver the best of both, that is pragmatic, affordable buildability with quality design and workmanship.

A solid procurement platform established from inception can deliver good design and school buildings that will make all stakeholders happy.

For more information, please contact Dan Pescod:

E: dpescod@calfordseaden.com
T: 01689 888 222