PlaceEXPO: Building for Education slides + summary

The education sector will see further failing schools in the next few years as experimental concepts such as University Technical Colleges and studio schools struggle to attract enough pupils and hit difficulties in paying for building maintenance costs, delegates heard.

Addressing more than 100 guests at the Building for Education conference in Liverpool, Kerrie Norman, director at Flinders Chase, a consultant specialising in procuring new schools, colleges and university buildings, gave a warts-and-all summary of capital funding streams.

Norman said there was a fragmented system of provision and funding, with an unclear delivery pipeline and private sector becoming drained of resources to navigate the messy funding regime – there are 229 frameworks and other delivery vehicles across the country, she said. This results in patchy value for money, with build costs varying by several multiples between similar looking projects, lack of capacity and insularity among clients.

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Local authorities are often bewildered when they try to match demand with the projected provision for school places, added Norman in a lively presentation that touched on recent Ofsted warnings to the first UTCs less than two years after they were launched, citing poor pupil numbers and inexperienced management. UTCs are funded by central government and are often built in areas that compete with good local schools which are backed by local authorities. UTCs should be sub-regional and draw on wider catchment areas to succeed, Norman said.

Building for Education, organised by Active Profile and Place North West, was held at PlaceEXPO, No 4 St Paul's Square in Liverpool's business district and sponsored by Hill Dickinson, Kier Construction (North) and Sheppard Robson.

Also speaking at the event was Simon McEneny, assistant director of regeneration at Liverpool City Council, who described how the council had fundeda major school building programme by selling surplus sites and merging schools, following the collapse of Building Schools for the Future funding. The council raised £169m and will have delivered 10 out of 12 by summer 2014, within a four year period, and the final two schools by May 2016. The new buildings are predominantly for secondary and special schools. Willmott Dixon, Kier and Morgan Sindall were selected to deliver the schools. Eight further schools are planned in phase two, mainly partial rebuilds.

Barry Landrum, head of design, Kier Construction Northern region said Government cuts meant reduced budgets for new schools; the Winsford E-ACT Academy in Cheshire was completed for £1,480/sq m, a total of £3m less than originally envisaged. New techniques for elements such as drainage and landscaping had to be found to help meet the revised cost.

The presenters in the first half were joined by Steve Logan, principal of Knowsley Community College, and Eleanor Stirrett, solicitor at Hill Dickinson. Panellists warned that there were legal issues around construction liabilities when transferring buildings from one type of school regime such as private finance initiative to another, such as UTC. There was also likely to be further flux put into the system next year when local enterprise partnerships take a greater role in skills provision.

The panel said local boards of education leaders, businesses and councils should be established to plan for future provision and guard against unnecessary competition for the same students, which wasted public funds and damaged children's lives when schools failed.

In the second half of the conference, the focus moved up in age provision to look at further and higher educatio.

Alex Solk, partner at architectural practice Sheppard Robson, spoke alongside Dr Richard Heseltine, director of library and learning innovation and university librarian for the University of Hull, about the redevelopment of the Brynmor Jones Library.

The project aimed to reflect the fact students are now paying customers, spending thousands on tuition fees, who choose to be there and do not have to be there. The library is the most important building on the campus and should reflect the brand of the university, telling you what the institution is about when you step inside, the two speakers said.

Solk said the design for the new library reflected the move from teaching to learning, with walls removed and more meeting rooms and flexible areas – 38 meeting space types were created.

Similarly, Mary Heaney, director of services at Manchester Metropolitan University, said the ongoing consolidation of the MMU estate from seven sites down to two large campuses was designed around permeability, connectivity, opening up the spaces and buildings to the community whenever possible and aiming for quality place-making at all times.

Also speaking in the second half of the event were Giles Beswick, director of Vita Student, and Neil Parkinson, director of Curtins.

PlaceEXPO continues in July, with further events on low carbon, private rented sector and core cities among others. See the full programme and register here.

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