January 20, 2021

Building for education

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced plans for a batch of 49 new Free Schools across England. A Free School is a type of Academy, a non-profit-making, independent, state-funded school which is free to attend but which is not controlled by a Local Authority. This statement came after a pledge that, if the Conservative Government is re-elected, a further 500 schools will be opened.

The critical need for new schools has been caused by overcrowding in the current school system, with many schools reaching a “tipping point” in a lack of school places. These factors call for the fast, lean and cost effective methods of construction – making offsite manufactured timber structures, such as cross laminated timber (CLT), the ideal solution.

The X-LAM Alliance has a wealth of experience in creating CLT Structures for education buildings – from nurseries and schools, to universities and academies. Building a successful school environment involves the integration of a range of different components. These include structuring the building around the needs of the curriculum – providing flexibility, adaptability and community use through break out areas and warm and inviting spaces that help to inspire learning.

Cross laminated timber has become a valuable tool for enhancing education environments. Being a largely prefabricated offsite solution, CLT is factory manufactured to exceptional levels of accuracy, ensuring minimal defects. This improves procurement, construction and project delivery timescales as well as reducing costs, saving money and maximising efficiency on all levels. It is fast becoming the material of choice for specifiers due to its inherent structural qualities that include speed of construction as well as airtightness and carbon sequestration but most importantly, its effect on internal environments when left exposed.

Scientia - External View
Scientia – External View

Cost plays a major part in the government’s plans for the creation of new schools. In terms of overall programme costs, the government has created a “more for less” strategy. This involves a substantial degree of standardisation across new build schools, particularly in reference to architecture and layout – providing a major opportunity for the benefits of offsite solutions to be exploited. CLT has proven to be an effective material for delivering schools by using standardisation to facilitate a faster, more effective roll out of construction programmes. Cost comparison in educational buildings has to be carried out at a ‘whole project’ level. Thermal, acoustic and airtightness contributions from the structural frame itself as well as programme savings and the cost benefits associated with offsite manufactured systems must all be taken into account when comparing the commercial benefit of one structural material against another.

The impact of increasing demographics can be immense and in some cases, difficult to predict. This can have a direct effect on the school intake – driving the rapid requirement for new educational establishments with an inherent adaptable design that can accommodate intake fluctuations. It is crucial then to design and create schools that incorporate a consideration for the cost and disruption associated with modifications to the building in the future. Removal or addition of the walls and floors can impact on the structural integrity which means that the building must be designed to provide structural adaptability from the outset. Cross laminated timber can help to create a structure that provides flexible properties for future changes to the building.

Exposed CLT creates a natural, inviting and calming environment, it can also enhance acoustic properties and dampen sound. In educational environments CLT generates a peaceful space for effective teaching and delivers schools that are cost effective and adaptable for future adjustment.