Innovation in Education: Driving Cost Efficiencies

Ewan Peacock
Due to the economic climate, in recent years there has been an emphasis on reducing costs, driving efficiencies and ensuring value for money when planning expenditure.

Our construction clients demand this from their projects and this looks set to continue as the UK economy grows. The education sector is no different; whether it’s for Nursery, Primary, Secondary, and Further or Higher Education clients a common thread remains: 'how do I get the most out of capital investment to ensure that my completed project is financially sustainable?'

Flexibility of Use

A key to this is to get the most from your available space, creating flexible areas that can adapt to the current and future education delivery/curriculum. An example of this is the extension to The King's Academy, Middlesbrough. Our client needed additional drama teaching accommodation for the short term, however, a new curriculum was on the horizon and the space needed to be flexible to adapt. In this case, acoustics and enhanced lighting was required in the first instance, but the space was designed with future flexibility in mind with the capability to change the internal wall configuration.

This is a small scale example however, the design of new education facilities of any size need to have this flexibility of use as one of the main design drivers. Effective consultation with the end user is vital with an eye on what could change in the future. This could involve decisions on design solutions which have a greater initial capital spend but with the benefit of less costly modifications during the functional life of the building.

Driving Cost Efficiencies

The adoption of effective value management and life cycle costing early in the design process will tease out the most cost advantageous solutions. Some examples could be:

  • Internal Walls - block work walls in high use circulation areas, more robust finish leading to less maintenance and related costs.
  • Ceilings – acoustic tiles to allow for agile teaching space.
  • Lighting – LED lighting units, last much longer reducing maintenance costs.

These options are likely to have a greater capital cost but lead to lower future revenue costs. Making these decisions could be critical to maintaining education estates and key to managing annual budgets throughout the functional life of the building.

Creating more open and appealing spaces with a move away from the traditional 'classroom' barriers is a growing trend that has its own challenges, such as current teaching methods.

The emphasis is in creating spaces that people want to be and learn in. This could also aid the flexibility of the space and open up opportunities for greater community use and potential additional revenue.

An example of this is the recently completed extension to Trinity Academy, providing open plan sixth form space which can also be used by the wider community.

Attracting 'fee paying' students to Higher Education is key for universities; creating state-of-the-art, forward-thinking education design could be a factor in students choosing one university over another. This could mean higher initial capital spend for construction work on university projects, however the 'pay-off' could be the greater number of students and the revenue this would bring.

New Build vs Refurbishment

In circumstances when there are programmes of work, such as batched Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) or Multi Academy Trust expansion, there is real benefit in the standardisation of design to drive cost efficiency in the procurement process. A factor that is becoming more common is the use of modular construction helping to reduce design costs and construction build time.

Not all education projects are new build due to funding constraints however, clients may opt to modify and improve their existing facilities instead. An example of this is the recent Condition Improvement Funding which provides funds to improve existing Academy or Sixth Form buildings. The task to adapt and improve existing facilities may be a greater challenge due to the nature of existing structures and site constraints but the key principle of maximising the flexibility of space still remains.

Politically, education is high on the agenda and the new government will look to ensure that the education budget will stretch as far as it can, so the challenge to get as much out of your space as possible whilst keeping costs down is a significant one.