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Martin High School. Image courtesy of Eurobrick

Building school environments for the future

With rapid expansion and limited space top concerns for schools, John Mayes explores the pressures and the solutions

Posted by Stephanie Broad | June 01, 2016 | Facilities & buildings

Building on a school site can become bogged down in issues of space, time constraints, costs and disruption to daily school life. But whatever the pressures, schools are expected to perform to high standards. Recently, figures revealed one in six secondary schools are already at or over capacity and forecasts predict there will be more than 300,000 additional secondary school pupils by 2020. This shortage of places is putting an additional burden on schools to increase the number of classrooms either with new buildings, and/or redevelopment projects to make better use of existing structures, all while budgets are being cut.

When planning a school development, designers and contractors have to be creative to ensure the best product is secured, at the best price and efficiently implemented within specific time scales. This is no easy task.  

As a result, it may be tempting to place the external finish of the building low down on the priority list. However, taking a long term view about the built environment helps to improve the value of a school’s brand - something that is particularly important for independent schools who already have a strong sense of identity. If it’s practical to do so, time and effort should be put in at the planning stage to ensure that any additions to a school’s campus enhance it for years to come rather than simply solve an immediate problem as cheaply as possible. 

Using products with short life spans to finish classrooms may seem attractive on the budget sheet, but robust, low maintenance solutions that are reliable for decades to come will put the school in a better position

When it comes to finding space to build on, the simplest option is often to use more land. This can, however, have a detrimental effect on the overall school environment. Those schools often hit the hardest by restrictions in land are urban schools, surrounded by increasingly busy cities and towns where new land is either unavailable or expensive to buy.  

One answer to the shortage of land is to build upwards. By adding floors to existing structures, the number of classrooms can be increased without reducing the school’s open space. Due to their lightweight nature, cladding systems are highly effective for this purpose. With a wide range of brick types and colours available, it’s also possible to match the existing brickwork and create a seamless finish.  

Energy efficiency and thermal performance of older school buildings can be significantly improved by retrofitting external wall insulation such as brick cladding. Not only does this immediately improve the comfort conditions for staff and pupils, it will reduce energy bills and rejuvenate what may be old and tired structures.

When budgets are tight, school operators must ensure that they’re spent wisely and with the future of the school and their communities in mind. Using products with short life spans to finish classrooms may seem attractive on the budget sheet, but robust, low maintenance solutions that are reliable for decades to come will put the school in a better position. It also allows for the aesthetics of the campus to be considered and planned for over time, helping to create an attractive learning environment that can enhance a school’s brand and reputation.  

We have worked with schools for over 25 years and have seen a considerable increase in school projects over this time. When working with restricted budgets in school infrastructure, it is vital to get the right advice, working with a design team who can maximise the environment available to get the best result for teachers and students alike.

John Mayes is Managing Director of Eurobrick Systems.

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