Change empty shops into schools says consultancy
In light of the recent reduction of funding and commitment from the currently established Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, Built Asset Consultancy, EC Harris reveals there is a solution to saving billions of pounds whilst still ensuring ongoing and necessary investment and development in the schools estate.
EC Harris’ initial findings, based on existing guidance for school provision, have indicated that making use of an existing retail shell could cut 36% from the average cost of building a new school. Not having to begin construction from scratch would speed up the programme, in some cases significantly, cutting development timescales in half. It would also facilitate more immediately flexible responses to short term local change in demand.
The BSF cut backs further promote the issue of needing to do ‘more for less’. However EC Harris points out, it’s the basic need that appears to have been missed in the discussions – many more new school places are still required and there will need to be a coordinated strategic response, offering solutions with far more limited funds.
The effects of the population ‘bulge’ have created a pressing need for new primary school places during the next 5 to 10 years, presenting a real challenge to be able to ‘do more with less’ if capital investment is unchanged. And of course, the longer term will see a need for more secondary places as those children grow up.
But this is just the start. Applying new design principles and delivery techniques combined with new commercial models for the investment will secure even greater efficiencies. EC Harris with its partner organisations, has already created new concepts for delivery using retail ‘shells’, applying techniques learned from other sectors.
Simon Lucas, Head of Education at EC Harris comments; “The discussion around “free” schools has highlighted the possibility that former shops and offices could be converted into schools; however we’re able to take the debate further and provide evidence that there are significant savings and efficiencies to be had in adopting new and radical models over the more conventional.”
There is a clear need for a greater focus on what works; doing more with less; more remodelling and refurbishment and above all, genuinely creative design and commercial solutions.
EC Harris’ Head of Retail, Catherine Tobiasinsky adds; “Approximately 1 in 8sqft of retail space is currently empty. We need to look at space we already have and how we can get the best from available assets. In addition, Michael Gove has already recognised that the retailing industry has a track record improving capital efficiency by looking to retailer advisors, such as Sebastian James and Kevin Grace. There is plenty that PfS can learn from current retailer built asset practices to get more for less.”
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