Sep 20, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Attainment through innovation and technology

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Speed, strength and sustainability – three compelling reasons why cross laminated timber (CLT) is becoming the structural system of choice to deliver educational development programmes throughout the UK. Cross laminated timber delivers maximum benefits, reduces capital and life cycle costs, whilst minimising the impact on the environment.


Cross laminated timber is being used as a positive means of enhancing educational environments. The impact of internal materials on the comfort and wellbeing of end users is an area where more research is required but now strong anecdotal evidence is emerging – particularly from the educational sector – about the role timber can play in creating comfortable internal environments.

CLT is becoming the material of choice for specifiers because of its inherent structural qualities such as speed and accuracy of construction, airtightness and carbon sequestration but it is also gaining recognition from end users for its beneficial effect on the internal environment – particularly when left exposed.

Positive outcomes include:

  • Exposed timber creates a natural, inviting and calming environment
  • Enhanced acoustic properties, dampens sound
  • Generates a peaceful space for effective teaching and learning
  • Introduces sustainability and environmental awareness to students

Scientia Academy in profile

In 2012, Staffordshire County Council put together a comprehensive school expansion plan including changing Christchurch Infants into a primary school, building a new school for St Modwens Catholic Primary and the creation of the new Scientia Academy.

With an extensive portfolio of educational projects, the X-LAM Alliance was commissioned via Entrust Design Consultancy, to build the Scientia Academy. Built on the former Belvedere Park school site, the new Scientia Academy is designed to meet the needs of the growing student population of the Burton-on-Trent area.

A hybrid structure was selected as the optimum solution, using cross laminated timber and structural steelwork to create flexible and open learning spaces. The central courtyard features mezzanine walkways which connect the teaching areas to supporting ancillary spaces.

The academy encompasses places for around 420 foundation and primary school stage pupils and includes the redevelopment of the adjoining bowling club and upgrading of parking facilities. A new access road was also built for residents of Belvedere Road affected by the development. The build forms part of the council's plan to create an extra 1000 school places in the Burton-on-Trent area over the next decade in a bid to accommodate the rapidly rising birth rates in the town.

The key driver for this innovative project was to provide a new purpose built educational establishment to serve an increasing population of school age children, while enabling staff to deliver outstanding education through the provision of exceptional facilities. These facilities include a 4D cinema, touch screen ICT suite, rooftop garden, spacious playgrounds and expertly designed classrooms.

The new Scientia Academy has been developed by maximising offsite technology from sustainable engineered timber frame systems, manufactured in factory controlled conditions. The benefits of offsite construction include high quality standards, increased airtightness and the reduction of waste onsite. The hybrid structure of cross laminated timber and steel divides into seven blocks with a connecting central area that forms a hub of breakout spaces, creating a focal point for the school. It is formed from a combination of structural wall panels and steel brackets that are connected to the cross laminated timber wall panels with adjoining steelwork for the central core. The engineering of this was imperative due to the intricacy of the ‘spider’s web’ steelwork.

All blocks are interlinked with two storey corridors constructed from cross laminated timber with steel floor and roof beams. The central area is formed from steel with a cross laminated roof and metal deck walkway.

The school has been carefully located – being developed in a built up area, offering excellent accessibility for pupils, with many living within walking distance of the Academy – resulting in a reduction in traffic around the sounding streets. The design team have managed to deliver a truly unique school environment which enhances the experience for both pupils and teachers. This has been achieved by creating flexible spaces which surround a central hub, providing opportunities for varied and small group teaching beyond the traditional classroom bases.

Challenges for this project included ensuring that the central hub steelwork met with the receiving connecting brackets around the mezzanine floor surrounding the core central hub area, together with erecting the full height panels to the sports hall. In order to overcome the challenges, rigorous and efficient planning and detailing was conducted in the early stages which led to a flawless design that worked perfectly.

The main highlight of this project was delivering an exceptional educational facility that is valued by both staff and pupils. The positive feedback from the client has been outstanding with the contracts manager reporting: “Possibly the most stunning school I have ever worked on which was delivered without a hitch.”

Precision and punctuality

Programme certainty and project planning is of vital importance – this is particularly true with new build educational projects, as with the Scientia Academy, the start and finish dates are often aligned with schools terms.

Precision engineered in factory controlled conditions for onsite installation, using cross laminated timber as a core structural component reduces site construction time, which makes project planning less weather-dependant, more predictable and therefore, reduces programme risk.

Internal works can proceed earlier to ensure the critical path run more smoothly, which improves construction and project delivery time, reduces costs, saves money and maximises efficiency on all levels.

Site limitations, both access to the site approach and onsite space restrictions, impact on most educational developments and this was a challenge with the construction of Scientia Academy which is located in an urban, highly populated area – therefore to ensure programme certainty, consideration has to be given at an early stage of the design to the transport of material to and movement around the site.

Future generations

Timber is the number one renewable mainstream construction material that can produce greener buildings with a lower carbon footprint. The X-LAM Alliance adopts and applies Best Practice sustainability principles through all aspects of its processes, from raw material procurement through to manufacture, offsite processes and onsite assembly. Offering only PEFC or FSC certified timber ensures clients are guaranteed of Full Chain of Custody.

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