Building for numbers;Expansion;School Management

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Popular schools are getting bigger - it's official. So they need to extend to house more pupils, reports Stephen Hoare.

Pupil numbers are increasing in secondary schools. If the league tables are favourable, there is pressure to expand. Popular schools attract more pupils - in the primary ssector as well - and more funding. But there have to be enough classrooms to accommodate rising rolls or to provide the smaller infant classes promised by the Government.

Brampton Manor secondary school in Newham, east London, has experienced a relentless rise in numbers since the school was created by the amalgamation of two adjoining single-sex schools in the early Seventies. Recently, the school has gone from an eight to an eleven-form entry school. The roll is projected to rise from 1,550 to 1,650 within two years.

A new school is being built on the old site. Completion is scheduled for April 2000. As the two old Sixties flat-roof blocks are demolished and a new wing made ready for occupation this Easter, some lessons are being taught in temporary huts. The headteacher, Haydn Powell, says: "The English department has moved to a village of temporary classrooms for the duration of this three-year project. It makes sense to group accommodation. Avoiding moving people around too much helps reduce stress."

For more modest growth, make better use of existing accommodation, advises Janis Grant, head of the Funding Agency for Schools' value-for-money unit. "It should always be a school's first option when considering expansion."

The headteacher and governors should undertake a survey of the buildings to identify under-used space, if necessary calling in a firm of surveyors to advise on building options and costs.

"Schools can take out open-access areas within buildings and redefine space. Look for usable floor space. Are you storing more than you need? And can you turn under-used but specialised accommodation into general purpose teaching areas?" One school has extensively remodelled its buildings. Kingsbury Grant-Maintained High School, Brent, in north-west London, was formed by an amalgamation of two schools. It now accommodates 1,550 pupils. Having two sites half a mile apart imposes restrictions a single-site school would not suffer. Philip Snell, the headteacher, explains: "To organise your accommodation you need to take charge of the curriculum. In some cases it makes sense to cut out duplication of provision and concentrate all your facilities on the one site. We have design and technology, home economics are on one site only and pupils have to make the journey to lessons."

Mr Snell has been imaginative about creating extra accommodation. At the upper school, space was created by filling in and putting a glass roof over two quadrangles which was dead space in the middle of the original Thirties building. Additional teaching space was created by reclaiming a covered locker and storage area on the ground floor of a two-storey teaching block.

Mr Snell believes extra accommodation should follow teaching needs: if extra pupil numbers are involved, then the additional income can be planned and money allocated to building works in a staged programme. There can also be long-term cost benefits.

"Whenever I am planning to restructure, I look for heating, maintenance and security spin-offs," said Philip Snell. "Roofing over the quadrangle cut down heat loss in our building and reduced maintenance by reducing the external windows. As the area was enclosed by an existing building it meant it could be serviced by shorter pipe runs from existing services rather than creating a new block and running services to it."

Using space within roofs or excavating a basement are more costly options than remodelling the interior, but they are ideal solutions for cramped sites or where planning restrictions apply. When Burpham primary in Guildford needed to create space for rising pupil numbers it decided on a loft conversion within the high-pitched Gothic roof of its Victorian teaching block. And when the University College School in Hampstead wanted to expand it found the listed status of buildings and planning restrictions on its site significantly reduced its options. The school called in Gardiner and Theobald, building consultant and project managers, who produced plans for converting a dark and almost unused basement into light, airy classrooms.

Where restrictions on listed buildings are not an issue then schools can go for cheaper options. With a modular extension a school gets what is in effect a permanent structure built with speed of a temporary building. Modular buildings are kit buildings whose elements are built in the factory and delivered on site. Based on a steel frame, the prefabricated classrooms are assembled and the structure is bolted together and built on to an existing structure which is knocked through to provide access.

Produced by firms like Terrapin, Elliot and Rovacabin, modular extensions can be clad in bricks and roofed to give the appearance of a traditional structure as well as full weather protection. Speed of construction is a positive feature.

Rovacabin managing director Brian Woodham says: "Our buildings have a design life of 40 years which is conservative. And where a traditional construction can take 10 months to build we can get a modular building up in as many weeks" Modular buildings can be put up cheaply on playground areas. Brian Woodham says: "Steel frame construction means that extra units or an extra storey can be bolted on at a later date, if sufficiently strong foundations have been dug. Pad foundations - mini piles also mean the buildings can straddle existing services without the need to excavate and re-route them."

TRADITIONAL v MODULAR

* Traditional buildings: Primary school extension - pound;681 per sq metre Secondary extension - pound;627 per sq metre. (figures supplied by DFEE).

* Modular buildings: Cost pound;350 - pound;400+ per sq metre. (finished costs include professional services, erection, cladding and fitting out). (figures supplied by contractor).

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