In this article, Robert Snook, Director and General Manager of Portakabin Hire, looks at how interim modular building solutions can help schools and local authorities overcome place planning issues, and what education providers should consider when specifying teaching accommodation for short-term use.
According to the Local Government Association, despite the creation of an additional 90,000 primary school places, an extra 130,000 places will still be needed by 2017/18, and a further 80,716 new secondary places will be required to meet the growing demand by 2019/20.
The provision of interim teaching accommodation using modular construction is a highly effective solution that more local authorities and schools are turning to. The approach enables schools to react very quickly to an increase in demand for school places, which can be difficult to predict, particularly at reception level.
The accommodation can be configured and fitted out to a school’s exact requirements. There is no risk to the school or local authority – the building can remain in use for as long as it is needed. And the approach gives education providers complete flexibility – the floor area can easily be increased or reduced in line with local needs.
By completing most of the building work before getting to site, modular construction will radically reduce programme times, improve the safety of school sites and ensure much less disruption to teaching. Interim facilities can also be timed for installation during school holidays or over weekends.
How to Maintain the Highest Standards of Education in Interim Teaching Accommodation
It is important to note however, that the quality of the education environment is a critical requirement – whether the child is being taught in interim or permanent accommodation. If a child is learning in an interim building for two years, for example, that could be one third of their time at that school. Parents and teachers, rightly, need confidence that children’s education will be unaffected.
In our experience, the design requirements for new school buildings should also be transferred to interim solutions. The design criteria should therefore include:
Exemplar concepts for school design can now be applied to interim teaching accommodation – provided the modular system is sufficiently flexible. Concepts can include:
Any modular building, whether for interim or permanent use, should be configured for ease of supervision, efficient navigation and circulation, and to minimise pupil distraction.
In order to meet individual schools’ requirements and budgets, modular buildings can be standalone units, single-storey cluster departments, two-storey schemes and whole school configurations. And the buildings can be fitted out for a variety of uses – from generously-sized, light, modern classrooms, to reception and administrative centres, break-out and social spaces, and kitchen and dining facilities.
Developing Constrained School Sites
Modular buildings are an extremely effective solution for meeting challenging accommodation requirements on constrained school sites.
Buildings can be located on the roofs of existing buildings, in completely enclosed courtyards and used to extend traditionally-constructed schemes. It is important for the modular specialist to work with each school to locate a building to meet their specific requirements and wherever possible to try to avoid using land required for other activities.
A Flexible Solution to Place Planning Issues
As budgets become ever tighter, specifiers need to look for alternatives to providing accommodation solutions that offer best value and yet maintain quality – whether for interim or permanent applications.
With the quality of interim solutions now available, schools no longer have to have permanent buildings in place to accommodate maximum numbers. An interim building can be used for peaks in school places, and the floor area can be increased or reduced in line with local needs. This can be a far more cost-effective option, particularly when there is such huge pressure on funding for schools.
However, when comparing tenders, schools and local authorities should ensure they are comparing buildings and specifications that are like for like. The cheapest building option may not represent best value – and could compromise the quality of children’s education and staff morale in the longer term.
Meeting the Rapid Growth in Demand for School Places in the South East
In the London Borough of Lewisham, Portakabin Hire provided a complete, self-contained primary school in just eight weeks from receipt of order to handover. The decant accommodation was required to allow Lewisham Council to refurbish and extend Adamsrill Primary School to meet the demand for new places.
Margaret Brightman, Strategic Places Manager at Lewisham Council, said, “We needed the decant school very quickly to be able to provide additional school places in time for the start of the new academic year. Portakabin already had a stock of primary school buildings ready configured and for us to use. Hiring the buildings gave us the flexibility to meet the school’s rapidly changing requirements.”
“The classrooms are lovely and teaching staff are very happy with them. We were surprised how spacious they are compared to older school buildings in London. The Portakabin team worked exceptionally hard to bring the project within our targeted budget and to our deadline. They are a very responsive company to work with and I would have no hesitation recommending the approach and the facilities to other schools and LEAs.”
The 1,300m2 building will be in use for the next year and accommodates 270 key stage one pupils and 25 children in the nursery. Facilities include nine classrooms, a nursery, main hall, school offices, outdoor play area, reception and kitchen.
To attend a CPD seminar to find out more about interim modular buildings, visit www.portakabin.co.uk/cpd.