Community use of school spaces: supporting the initiative of driving value

Ceri Jones
Achieving best value in school projects can be boosted by promoting community usage.

The 21st Century Schools and Education Capital Programme is about creating learning environments designed to improve the delivery of education in the 21st Century. The programme focuses resources into educational buildings where investment is needed, with funding provided by Welsh Government and local authorities.

The aim of the programme is to deliver learning environments in Wales that will enable the successful implementation of strategies for improvement and better educational outcomes; deliver greater economy and efficiency for learning environments through better use of resources; and to provide a sustainable education system in Wales that meets national building standards and reduces the recurrent costs and carbon footprint of education buildings.

The delivery of the first investment phase (Band A) continues until March 2019.  A second wave of investment, Band B, is under development and begins in April 2019.

The programme encourages the construction of flexible assets that can be used both by the schools and by the communities they serve. Using school facilities to provide community-based services can help solve some of the challenges posed by declining budgets.

Maximising the flexibility of space is always a priority and this is intensified by the need to provide opportunities for community use, and when achieved this provides a valuable income stream.

In terms of the learning environment the emphasis is to inspire pupils, support learning, improve attendance and performance targets, and contribute to positive physical and mental health. Layout, shape and size of classrooms, communal space and play areas need careful consideration.

Design, layout and acoustic performance of corridors and communal spaces has an influence on congestion, noise and discipline. A calm environment during class changeover periods, is vital. School security is also important, requiring controlled access to a reception area for the identification and safe management of visitors.

Schools need to make adaptations to the physical environment in order to remove barriers to participation and learning. Facilities for pupils with special educational needs (SEN), whether stand-alone or integrated within mainstream schools, should be designed in consultation with all relevant stakeholders and in line with the SEN Code of Practice for Wales. In addition to accessible welfare facilities, it may be necessary to provide extra conveniences and changing spaces for personal care. This will minimise disruption and maximise integration.

Community use brings further challenges. Using school assets in this way requires potential additional access provision and security measures. It is good practice to segregate the non-usable education spaces of the school from the community users. Income streams will be determined by the marketability of the facilities and therefore design options warrant careful exploration. Music and drama groups may be looking for a performance space, dressing rooms, and good acoustics, lighting and technology provision. For sports use, 4G synthetic sports surfaces or WRU -standard rugby pitches may increase local demand for the facilities.

For both school and community usage, it makes sense to maximise flexibility of the space, and future-proof as much as possible. Space layouts affect IT, heating, lighting and access arrangements. It is also critical to consider how these elements may change in the future due to plans for expansion or potential change of use.

With the aim of reducing recurrent costs, operational factors such as the ease of carrying out maintenance is necessary to sustain the quality and asset value of the buildings. This should be considered at an early stage and throughout the full period of the design development. On hand-over, it’s important that the school understands how to use what is likely to be a complex environment. Therefore, all facilities management aspects should be planned at the initial design stage to ensure maximum efficiency and minimum disruption with maintenance activities integrated within the design proposals.

Faithful+Gould provides cost management and project management services for the delivery of schools in Wales, aligning our clients’ aspirations with the government strategy. We aim to provide not just a standard school but one that is modern and fit for purpose maximising clients’ budgets. We have specialist expertise in balancing educational needs whilst maximising the community usage.

Early engagement with our clients brings the most satisfactory results. This enables us to challenge the proposed layouts, getting the design right at the initial stage of design development saves money and time in the long run. To facilitate this, we lead stakeholder consultations with school governors, staff, pupils and community groups.

Accurate cost forecasting, including anticipated revenue streams from community usage, enables clients to make informed decisions about their priorities. Throughout the project, we’ll ensure that the budget is allocated appropriately to key assets, maximising the use of public sector budgets and spend profiles.    

We help our clients to achieve their goals, advising on the most efficient procurement arrangements, minimising their risk and maximising their certainty of outcome. This involves considering aspects such as funding conditions, health and safety, community benefits (including training and apprenticeship opportunities within the supply chain), sustainability and future proofing.

Read more about our schools work in Wales that has been delivered by our office in Swansea: two schools created as part of the 21st Century School Programme in Neath Port Talbot, and an award-winning Microsoft Showcase School.

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