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How We Expanded Our School Despite Budget Constraints

February 19, 2019, 15:45 GMT+1
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  • The going may have been arduous at times, but budgetary constraints and some very inclement weather weren’t going to derail the expansion of Totley Primary School…
How We Expanded Our School Despite Budget Constraints

Major construction projects often involve having to negotiate a few issues on the way to completion. When it came to the £2.1 million expansion of Totley Primary School, the company charged with completing the project, ENGIE, found itself having to overcome two considerable challenges early on in the process.

ENGIE first became involved in the project after winning the tender for a design and build contract from Sheffield City Council in November 2017, effectively coming on board after the design process had already progressed to a fairly advanced stage.

However, as Sean Corcoran, regional director for ENGIE’s places and communities division explains, “While we were successful, the price was still above the council’s budget. That led to a value engineering exercise of reviewing the build and seeing what we could change in terms of specifications and end user requirements.”

The aim of the project was to attach a new single-storey block to the school’s existing main building and construct a separate two-storey block containing classroom facilities, a new staffroom and a media studio. The school’s grounds were also to be overhauled with the addition of a multi use games area (MUGA), an expanded car parking facility and a new permanent route for service and emergency vehicles.

After consulting closely with Sheffield City Council and the school, ENGIE was eventually able to identify an impressive £115,000 of savings. These included swapping out a steel staircase for one made of concrete, incorporating insulation into the roof structure, installing UPVC fall pipes in place of the aluminium ones origianlly specified and adjusting the design and fencing of the MUGA, among numerous other changes.

With the adjustments made and the budget duly met, work on the site began in January 2018 with completion scheduled for August that year. With the school needing to be ready in time for its new intake in September, there would be little room for delays – but the team were about to hit a serious snag.

Change of plan

“During the first six weeks, the weather was terrible,” remembers Corcoran. Indeed, anyone with memories of the UK’s 2018 ‘Beast from the East’ cold wave will be able to sympathise. “We had snow, rain – you can imagine the difficulty of digging in those conditions while trying to keep the site organised and safe, especially with children around. We did lose time in that early period.”

The original plan had been to construct the new two-storey teaching block on the school’s rear play area – a space heavily used during daily break and lunch times, and vital for school’s sports provision. The aforementioned MUGA and reworked car park were meanwhile intended to go at the front of the building.

With the complications presented by the weather conditions and the very real prospect of losing yet more valuable time, it soon became clear that the only way to free up the space at the rear and get started on the teaching building was to complete the MUGA first and provide the children with an alternative play area. Priorities therefore shifted to the MUGA and carpark areas, both of which were completed and handed over to the school that April.

With the time pressure continuing to ratchet up, however, the team was unable to wait for the MUGA to be completed. The decision was therefore taken to erect a hoarding within the rear play area during the February half term, and effectively share the space with the school for several weeks while the MUGA took shape. “That enabled us to start the two-storey extension on time,” reflects Corcoran. “Had we not, we’d have missed the slot for completion that September.”

The reconfigured site was now accessed via a new school entrance, which would later became the planned service and emergency vehicle route. By the time the finishing touches were being applied to the MUGA, work on the school’s rear extension was well underway.

As the school decanted the rear play area and moved the pupils into the now completed MUGA, the construction team removed the temporary hoardings and took over the rear play area in its entirety until the new teaching block and extension were nearing completion.

Happily for the team, the project proceeded smoothly thereafter. “We were lucky in some respects that the biggest issues came right at the start of the scheme,” reflects Corcoran.

“We were responsible for the build, but the headteacher and council were extremely understanding and keen to work with us. It was very much a three-way team effort to get the scheme completed on time.”

To heat the buildings efficiently, a Monodraft mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system was installed, alongside a gas central heating system with radiators situated throughout the school’s new rooms.

The use of timber structurally insulated panels helped the finished building to achieve a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) rating of ‘very good’, and exceed the project’s air tightness requirement of 3 to reach 2.7. The team also installed photovoltaic panels onto the roof area of the two-storey building to provide additional electrical power.

Pupil engagement

In common with other build companies used to working with schools, ENGIE helped to make the project a learning experience for pupils via the efforts of its community engagement team. According to Corcoran, “They’ll visit the school and address the children in assembly – detail the risks and dangers and various ‘dos and don’ts’ of working and operating around a building site.

The community team will then typically organise school activities on a monthly basis, sometimes alongside our ENGIE mascot to keep things entertaining. It all helps keep the children aware of and interested in what’s going on, while also keeping the school’s staff, informed of what we’re doing and the progress we’re making.”

As it was, the work progressed throughout spring and summer with no further adverse incidents to speak of, and was ultimately completed, against all the earlier odds, both within budget and on time.

“You can see when you walk around just what a lovely educational space it is now,” Corcoran remarks. “The new classroom facilities they’ve got, the new circulation spaces – it’s all got to help in terms of their education.”

From somewhat difficult beginnings then, a positive outcome. The school’s 2018/19 intake was received with ease, by a school now using facilities that do exactly what they were intended to.

At a glance

Scope of project:
  • Construction of a single-storey block attached to the main building, containing classroom and library facilities
  • Construction of a separate two-story block containing classrooms, a staffroom, a media studio, a science room and other ancillary spaces
  • Installation of a multi-use games area
  • Addition of a new, 32-space car park
  • Enhanced cycle parking for pupils
  • A new permanent route for service and emergency vehicles
Budget and timeframe:
  • Construction Value – £2,100,000
  • Commencement – 8th January 2018
  • Completion – 31st August 2018

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