Jan 22, 2019 Last Updated 4:27 PM, Jan 21, 2019

Leading the way in innovative education design

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Conlon Construction has recently transformed greenfield land to provide state-of-the-art facilities to accommodate 840 pupils at King's Leadership Academy in Warrington, Cheshire.

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Created to nurture the leaders of tomorrow, the King’s Leadership Academy in Warrington is the third free school to be developed by the Great Schools Trust and builds on the varied experience of main contractor, Conlon Construction in the education sector.

The project was awarded to the Preston-based firm via the Education Funding Agency (EFA) Regional Contractors Framework after the previous contractor appointed via an alternative framework went into administration.

Designed by architect firm, Pozzoni, the multi-million school embeds community engagement within the fabric of the building, with a zoned layout and hireable sports, performance and meeting facilities to optimise the building’s use and provide opportunities for revenue generation that will help the school deliver its ambitious goals.

Unconventional approach

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit”, proclaims the Great Schools Trust website, quoting Aristotle to explain its ethos for driving levels of achievement within its schools. The same philosophy can also be applied to the construction programme for the school, with Conlon working closely with the trust, the teaching staff, the students and the local community to ensure that the school was delivered on time and to the highest standards with full accountability for every milestone in the 51-week project aligned to a meticulously scheduled programme.

“The project was unconventional for reasons beyond the innovative design of the school building,” explains Conlon’s Project Manager, Peter Carroll. “The original contractor had gone into administration mid-build, leaving the client with an urgent need to replace them and pick up from where they had mothballed the site.

“Our task was to get the scheme back on track as quickly as possible while ensuring that the existing work met our stringent quality standards. We also needed to provide the trust with complete confidence that they’d have a completed building by the agreed deadline with thorough planning and regular, candid communication.”

Conlon began by assessing the current state of the build and, where necessary, some elements, including the first fix mechanical and electrical installation and the roof of the sports hall, had to be removed and reinstalled.

Peter continues: “While we were inheriting a partially-constructed building, Conlon was accountable for the finished school so we had to ensure that every aspect of the build met our standards. Where possible the materials we were forced to remove were reused and the remainder were recycled.”

Zoned layout

The Conlon team worked closely with the architect to deliver the existing design and develop a programme based on hitting key milestones throughout the programme. The scheme had to complete before the start of the summer recess to enable the trust to prepare for the start of term in September.

The two-storey building is designed around a zoned concept with a central double-height atrium at its centre. The atrium creates a welcoming space filled with natural light and leads to four blocks, each designed to provide a different type of accommodation. Block C leads directly from the atrium to the left and accommodates the library, the IT suite, the music rooms, the staff rooms and the medical room. Blocks A and B branch out from block C and contain classrooms and science labs respectively.

To the right of the atrium, the sports hall, gym, dance studio, fitness studio and canteen are accommodated in Block D, with two 5-aside MUGA pitches in the block D grounds. The hall includes moveable bleacher seating and a moveable partition wall, creating a flexible multipurpose space that has been specified to Sport England standards for sporting activities, is suitable for performance and presentation use or can be partitioned for use as an exam room and overflow seating for the canteen.

Peter continues: “The concept behind the school design is to move away from a traditional model based on inflexible designated spaces and closure of the whole campus outside of school hours, replacing it with a flexible, practical, multipurpose building.

“Most of the facilities that will be used by the local community are located in block D so that blocks A, B and C can be secured at the end of the school day while external hire and activities take place. The only exception to this is the music rooms in block C, which include rentable, professional standard recording studios but, thanks to the way in which the school has been zoned, this too can be opened to external users on an isolated access basis.”

Building services

The design strategy that has enabled this zoned approach to open up the school for external groups and activities has been delivered through zoning of building services through the BMS (building management system). Specific areas of the school can be opened or locked down with the access control system, intruder alarm, heating and lighting controls activated only for the relevant areas.

The building services have also been designed to optimise comfort and energy efficiency, with underfloor heating throughout the building linked to both temperature and CO2 controls to deliver optimum comfort using low temperature hot water provided by gas boilers. The same sensors also operate the school’s natural ventilation system, with louvres on all windows to bring fresh air into the building as required.

PIR absence detection lighting controls are also installed throughout the building, switching lights off after 20 minutes of inaction and providing zoned manual on and off switching. Meanwhile, the school’s external lighting is controlled by timers.

While the school does not use rainwater harvesting for a grey water supply, two water swales have also been installed as part of the project to help with local flood defences.

Peter explains: “The water table in Warrington is quite high and the swales will capture rainwater for slow release into drainage channels, safeguarding against flooding.”

Close collaboration

Conlon completed the project on schedule in June, handing the building over so that the trust could finalise the move from the school’s temporary accommodation during the summer recess.

Much has been done throughout the programme to prepare for the transition to the new building with active engagement throughout the build with students, local residents and the client.

“Gaining the client’s confidence was essential to the success of the project,” explains Peter, “and to do that we not only needed to deliver high standards on time, we also needed to communicate progress and work flexibly where required.

“For example, the switch on of utility supplies was delayed and we adjusted the programme to accommodate that change, ensuring we communicated effectively with the client with a positive approach.”

Conlon also kept the school’s staff and students and the local community up to speed, with visits to site for King’s Leadership Academy students, pupils from the local primary school and the parish council, along with newsletters for surrounding residents.

Peter adds: “This school will have a local student catchment and has been built with community engagement in mind so communicating progress was important.

“We also wanted to ensure that the construction programme itself would benefit the local area, which is why almost all of our supply chain for materials and labour was sourced from within a 50 mile radius.”

Meeting expectations

As the school continues its countdown to the first day of learning in its new building, it’s clear that Conlon and the project delivery team have succeeded in constructing a school building that meets the Great Schools Trust’s expectations.

“We have been impressed with Conlon’s project management, attention to detail and communication throughout the process, which have given us the peace of mind of knowing that the build was on track,” adds King’s Leadership Academy’s Principal, Shane Lerston. “We’re delighted with the results and the students cannot wait to move into their new school building.”

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