Newman School Facilities
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Mobile Class Space

Mobile Class: Newman School Case Study

Organisation : Newman School

Product : Classrooms

Location : Carlisle, Cumbria

Requirement :

Unprecedented flooding across Cumbria was caused by storms and when the banks of the River Eden burst, havoc was wreaked in homes, schools and businesses, affecting around 3,000 children in the region. Cumbria County Council and the schools involved had to ensure that all children could return to classes for the start of the spring term in either adapted buildings or interim teaching accommodation.

The worst-hit school was Newman Catholic School, a secondary school and sixth form in Carlisle which was irreparably damaged. There was extensive water damage to the science laboratories, data communications, ICT suites, chapel, main hall, and sports halls.


Solution :

First Phase Emergency Response

 The Portakabin local emergency response team had its first meeting with the school within days of the disaster and plans to re-open on the site of a former primary school were put into action with additional interim classrooms being installed very quickly. This could ensure the facilities would be in place for the start of the spring term for its 650 pupils.

 Twelve single Portakabin classroom buildings were supplied complete with furniture, data communications and alarm systems as a first response to get the school up and running again while a longer-term accommodation solution could be designed and constructed. Each building provided open-plan teaching space for around 34 children to supplement the former primary school facility.

 Second Phase Interim School

 Twenty-four general classrooms and highly fitted out specialist rooms including for ICT, design and technology, food technology and science were then delivered to site to help create the interim school. The buildings totalling 2,100sqm were supplied in just 12 weeks, designed and built to permanent standards, to be in use until a long-term solution is developed.

 Portakabin provided Cumbria County Council with a full service for the new school site following the flood disaster:

  • Ground works for all the buildings
  • All fitting out
  • Air conditioning
  • Fire and security alarm systems
  • Access ramps and walkways
  • Emergency lighting
  • Furniture
  • Service connections
  • Data communications.

 The scheme also included the provision of sports changing rooms, shower and toilet facilities, and a furnished sixth form common room.

 Purpose-designed Specialist Classrooms for Short-term Use

 The general and specialist classrooms were configured as 12 double classroom blocks located on either side of a central ‘street’. Some of the buildings are linked together, and all the rooms have movement sensors to reduce energy consumption. Much of the lost equipment was replaced and fully fitted:

  • Design and technology rooms – air conditioning, extraction fans, a store room and laser cutting room, interactive white boards, pillar drills, and 3D printers.
  • Food technology classrooms – sinks and drainers, microwaves, hobs and ovens, hard-wearing work tops, work benches laid out in islands, washing machine, tumble dryer, large freezer, dishwasher, and under work-top fridges.
  • Science laboratories – fitted with non-slip vinyl flooring, fume cupboards, air extraction and ventilation, gas taps, sinks, data connections, and two laboratories have adjacent preparation rooms.
  • Sixth form common room – fitted kitchen area, dining furniture and soft seating.

The Project Challenges

 This was a challenging project on a difficult site and required in a very fast timescale to minimise disruption to the children’s education:

  • The new accommodation had to be sited on a water-logged playing field which required gas, electric and water services bringing in.
  • The site was located in a constrained residential area so an access road had to be constructed for delivery of the buildings.
  • The construction team had to work through very poor weather conditions and still deliver the project on time and on budget.

The School’s Perspective

 John McAuley, Head Teacher at Newman Catholic School said, “The Portakabin team was incredibly fast to respond to the situation and planning meetings were held within days of the disaster. This was really important to help us manage the situation. Our priority was to ensure that our students could be taught in accommodation that was at least equivalent to what they had before. The reality is that the interim facilities we now have are in many ways superior to our original classrooms.”

 “The building design team was able to accommodate our specific requirements, such as larger science laboratories, and worked really hard to deliver exactly what we needed in a tremendously short timescale.”

 “The classrooms are bright, warm, airy and welcoming.  Despite the terrible floods, our school has considerably improved facilities.”

 “We would absolutely recommend Portakabin buildings to other schools needing emergency accommodation or classrooms for shorter-term use. We have had a fantastic experience with such a responsive team of building professionals who have been there for us every step of the way.”

The Council’s Perspective

 Owen David, Project Manager at Cumbria County Council said, “Speed of response was exactly what we needed on this project. The Portakabin team was extremely quick to arrive on site to assess and respond to the situation.”

 “By using a building partner who could handle everything for us, we could focus our efforts and resources in other areas that needed addressing because of the seriousness of the flooding across the county. This is just the sort of help and collaboration that schools and local authorities need in an emergency situation. We would certainly recommend the approach, which worked really well for us and the buildings that are now in use are excellent.”

 Lessons Learned

  • Acting quickly and collaboratively is imperative in an emergency situation. Portakabin developed an urgent first response solution within days of the disaster to re-open the school. 
  • Providing a sense of normality for the students as quickly as possible was the overriding priority. It is vital for timetables to remain the same throughout to maintain a strong sense of continuity for the children.
  • Forming a partnership with a good emergency response building supplier is critical – and involving Portakabin immediately – and not 7-10 days after the crisis – is very important. This allows resources and available buildings to be allocated to the priority school sites.
  • Newman School needed a partner with the fleet resources immediately available to provide the volume of buildings required. The school also benefited from the Portakabin team’s wealth of knowledge in disaster recovery and its years of experience working closely with major school insurers. This all helped to ensure that disruption to teaching was minimised from the outset.
  • It was essential to deliver teaching accommodation of the highest standards and in line with Department for Education guidelines. There should never be any compromise on children’s education just because they are working in interim classrooms.
  • A key lesson is that more schools need to have up-to-date disaster recovery plans prepared in advance – which Portakabin can assist with. A detailed school inventory and a full assessment of the school’s building requirements can potentially cut an emergency response programme by up to two weeks, further reducing any interruption to teaching. 
  • With careful planning and collaborative working, schools can be fully operational as fast as possible to minimise the impact of any major incident on education provision.

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