Dec 07, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

10 tips for building a new school without breaking the budget

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Kearsley Academy in Bolton was one of 88 new build schools envisaged under the Building Schools for the Future programme (BSF). Suzanne Pountain, Vice Principal of Kearsley Academy, eagerly took on the task of project manager, with prior experience of the design, build and commissioning process in a former role. Here she divulges ten tips that will ensure you can build a new school without breaking the budget.


#1: Appoint the right Project Manager

Allocate one person who will be responsible and accountable. This is not an easy role and requires a comprehensive skill set from day one, namely: broad shoulders, the capacity to think on one’s feet and communicate well across all management levels plus a tireless pursuit of quality and if possible, prior experience.

#2: Be clear about your vision for the school

Continue to ask yourself throughout the building development and construction programme whether what you may have just agreed to do (usually after a conversation with the architect or construction project manager), is true to your vision. If you are not clear about the vision at the outset you will never be able to deliver a finished product that everyone will love.

#3: The contract

Treat the contract document with the care and attention it deserves. When you see this document – and you can hardly miss it because it is so thick – find the time to give it the respect it deserves. This document holds the key to your vision and most importantly – to balancing the books. You will be given this document early on in the development phase and there will be limited time to digest it because the professional teams will be standing by to start work. It will include many technical terms that most teachers will never have heard of – so ask, ask and ask again, before you sign it off.

#4: Involve all stakeholders in the build

We held focus groups, the staff were involved at every level and each department developed mood boards. Teaching staff were asked to envisage their dream space and the mood boards they created were amazing.

Once BAM Construction was appointed, we held an open evening with the parents so everyone had a chance to provide feedback. This is where the project manager is vital to lead the discussions and to ensure that you adhere to the vision in a design context.

#5: Be totally uncompromising

As project manager, the downside is that the contractor and professional team expect you to know about every aspect of building design and construction – when your core subject may be English or Geography!

If there is nobody in your school with prior experience, go and visit another newly built school and speak to the person who has managed the process to get some first-hand advice.

You must not give way on quality or agree to something just because it is easier to build it that way if it is not what you want. You must stand firm and think about how any proposed change to the agreed design will impact on school life.

#6: Good communications

Foster a good working relationship between all parties. We sent a number of letters home to parents to update them on what was happening. We held themed dance and drama productions around the new development and the contractor provided some financial support to help us raise the profile of the new development.

#7: Check regularly

Always be aware of your expenditure. It is a daily necessity to check your expenditure for every single item against the budget forecast – from the window specification to the M&E solutions. I spoke to BAM’s contract managers every day.

#8: Be available, be accessible

Construction will continue regardless, irrespective of school holidays. So you must be flexible and even prepared to come in to school at weekends. You can begin to feel really stretched sometimes, particularly if you are still teaching and leading within a busy school environment. It is really important not to let the paperwork mount up and to make sure that progress of the construction and the cost plans are all correct.

#9: Timely induction process

It is essential that all stakeholders begin the induction process for using a new building well before the official handover date.

This includes the facilities management team, administration, catering, teaching staff and students. There will be a host of new systems – both technical and practical – and it is inadvisable to wait until everyone transfers to the new school for obvious reasons.

At Kearsley, we offer 21st century learning and staff had to get used to working in larger open spaces and in a more collaborative way using the new technologies. These can require a totally different teaching style.

The induction tip is a very important one to remember because everyone needs to be the co-constructor of efficiency.

#10: The snagging process

Just when you thought it was all over ... remember the snagging process. This is really your final opportunity to make sure the building is fit for purpose, is future proofed and meets everyone’s expectations.

It will be too late to make sweeping changes at this stage but now is the time to discuss any aspect of the build which is not up to scratch. It is important for continuity that the same person is involved in this.

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