It’s a fair statement that prior to it being axed in 2010, Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was a government programme that breathed life into the construction sector. At a cost of c£50 Billion however, whether this vast investment of public funds was ever good for the wider economy is questionable.
Fast-forward two years to the recent announcement of the ‘small schools’ initiative; replacing BSF this is the green light for the construction of 251 new schools at a cost of £2.1 Billion. This simple concept centres on the reduction of every new build schools net footprint by 15%. While classrooms will retain their existing volume, common areas such as hallways and dinner halls will be built to new ‘slimmer’ guidelines.
A common criticism of BSF designs was their often extravagant architectural style (read cost), more often seen in commercial office developments. It has been estimated that an average net space saving of just 15% would reduce development costs per school by a staggering £7 Million.
Whilst impressive, these costs will not come from the sheer reduction in size alone and many have questioned if instead these savings will come from standardisation. The use of a blueprint for the design of new schools would reduce the need for architectural input, and volume procurement of materials would save build costs.
The most exciting element of this standardisation may well come from the cost savings derived from the use of off-site and modular construction principles. Modular building in 2012 is far removed from the breeze block cabins you might have grown up with. Instead we can look forward to highly innovative and state of the art building principles which will save both time and money.
New schools may no longer win architectural awards, but a smaller uniform approach will save money and ultimately allow more to be built. Surely this is a compromise we can afford to make.
Korinna Sjoholm is a Consultant focusing upon Construction & the Built Environment within the EMI Practice of Berwick Partners.