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New schools 'in only six months'

An engineering technique used in the new Hong Kong

airport may help clear the backlog of repairs in UK schools cheaply and fast. Jon Slater reports.

AN innovative engineering technique used on Sir Norman Foster's Hong Kong airport could help meet the Government's class sizes pledge, according to the construction giant, AMEC.

The technique, which involves creating units of the building on a different site, then transporting them to where they are needed, has proved to be faster and cheaper than conventional methods.

And according to AMEC, it could be the answer the shortage of classroom space - created by the Government's new limit of 30 pupils for infant classes.

AMEC will launch its "new schools for old" initiative at next week's Labour party conference in Bournemouth. The firm has already built two classrooms in Manchester in seven weeks, the first time the method has been used in a UK school.

It says it can create a 900-pupil secondary school within six months - for the same cost as a major refurbishment (once running costs are accounted for). Refurbishment itself can take two years.

There is an estimated pound;3 billion backlog of repair in Britain's schools. The Government has made more than pound;2bn available though its class size initative and New Deal for Schools programme.

AMEC's plans for new schools have been influenced by discussions with teachers, heads and council officials. The schools would include extensive cable networks for computers and would be designed to allow maximum access for the community while maintaining school security. Ministers have asked to be kept informed of the initiative.

But the firm is concerned that a lack of expertise and an unwillingness to change in some councils, means that new schools are ruled out. Instead, poorly-designed buildings are being patched up.

Tom Russell, Manchester's chief executive, said: "We are keen to look closely at how we can use this new technique in other education projects on which we are working - it is fast, high-quality and it is also extremely cost-effective."

Sir Norman's Chek Lap Kok airport, opened last year, was the world's largest construction project. The terminal building has a four-mile long curtain of glass.

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