Anthony Langan, director and education sector lead at architecture and building consultancy practice AHR, explains why modular construction might hold the key to delivering more school places.
With growing pressure for school places across many parts of the country, the expansion of school infrastructure, and indeed the creation of new schools, is a key consideration for educational establishments, local authorities and the Government.
This issue of increasing demand for school places is compounded by constrained public-sector budgets. Faced with this challenge, the ability to harness the benefits of a modular approach to deliver more school places is attractive.
Is modular a viable solution for construction in the education sector?
A modular approach drives considerable efficiencies in the construction process – allowing high-quality new-build infrastructure to be delivered in a cost and time-effective way.
One of the key features of a modular approach is that a large part of the construction can take place off-site, in a controlled factory environment. This minimises opportunities for disruption to the construction process, such as poor weather, and allows for work to be completed much more quickly. This, in turn, leads to less time required on-site, which reduces the disruption to pupils and teachers when compared to traditional construction methods.
We are currently using these techniques to deliver a batch of new primary schools in London, Sussex and the Midlands as part of the Priority Schools Building Programme Modular Batch B Framework.
Adopting a modular approach to the construction of four new primary schools means manufacturing efficiencies are gained through the scale of the project. The first step in achieving this was the creation of a digital building information modelling (BIM) as part of the early design process. BIM creates a data-rich visualisation of the school buildings, which provides key insights into the dimensions and materials required, helping to reduce waste, improve environmental sustainability and keep reworks to a minimum.
A clear and shared understanding of the requirements for each of the schools then allowed for certain aspects of the construction process to be standardised, making it possible to create repeatable elements which allowed for considerable time and cost efficiencies in the manufacturing process. In this case, the modular solution was used to build on very constrained sites thus minimising the use of temporary accommodation.
Today, decision-makers in the education sector are increasingly aware of the benefits of modular construction and have begun to understand that the high-quality infrastructure this approach can now deliver differs drastically from the stereotypical prefab units of the mid-20th century. Modular projects are now capable of enhancing influential places for pupils through design that is sympathetic to its surroundings.
That is why there is a growing consensus that modular has a crucial role to play in delivering the learning spaces we need for the future.
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