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Buchan Concrete Solutions

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SCHOOL – An Off-Site Initiative for the Delivery of Educational Buildings


The SCHOOL initiative was launched to address the urgent need for permanent, high-performance, low-energy and affordable buildings in the education sector, with the aim of delivering flexible and robust accommodation quickly without compromising the high standards required for excellent learning environments. The initiative is built on the shared experience over ten years of Buchan Concrete Solutions and Walker Simpson Architects in designing, manufacturing and assembling precast school buildings.


In 2010, SCHOOL embarked on a research and development  programme exploring typical design models and cost templates for complete school buildings and classroom block extensions. The project brought together the skill and expertise of education designers and off-site precast concrete panel engineers and manufacturers. The findings of the first stage of this programme were then applied to a self-funded full-scale zero-carbon demonstration unit manufactured and constructed at the Buchan Concrete works in Cheshire.


Energy efficiency

On completion of the demonstration unit in summer 2012, the heating and lighting services were set up to simulate the energy demands of a live classroom environment. At the design stage, the building achieved an Energy Performance Certificate Rating A+ and, subsequently, the unit has been awarded a Display Energy Certificate A Rating, the highest level achievable. The unit is a ‘fabric first’ solution using highly insulated concrete panels, high thermal mass and excellent air-tightness. These characteristics, combined with low-energy LED lighting and compact high-efficiency boilers, result in lower running costs and longer life.


Project portfolio

A series of projects are in hand with two schemes having been completed and handed over this summer (2014). Other projects are in development and scheduled to be completed ahead of the new academic year in September 2015: clients include local authorities, a private nursery provider, and a national housebuilder. In partnership with national contractor Keepmoat, SCHOOL is delivering schemes for Manchester City Council that will address shortfalls in SEN and Basic Need accommodation requirements across several sites. These projects range from Early Years stand-alone buildings to fully accessible two-storey 1FE classroom blocks.





Also in partnership with Keepmoat, SCHOOL has recently delivered new accommodation for Trafford Borough Council. This project, won in competition, comprises a four-classroom extension with toilet facilities. The programme moved quickly with planning consent gained in March 2014 and the building completed and handed over to the primary school in August 2014.


Work on a new standalone nursery for 72 pre-school children is due to start in November 2014 with handover programmed for May 2015. This project is running in parallel with an adjacent new dwelling and office building that is also designed and constructed using off-site construction techniques.

Design solutions can be developed to complement existing buildings with an unlimited range of forms, layouts, materials and finishes. External materials include concrete panels with facings of brick and tile, treated timber cladding and acid-etching. In addition, designs can be developed for individual bespoke projects or for grouped projects to deliver a strategy of standardisation with significant economies of scale.

SCHOOL is not a fixed modular or volumetric building system. Buildings are designed from a ‘kit of parts’ carefully selected from typical tried-and-tested specifications used over many years in the education sector.


BIM and Off-Site

The initiative is supported by an off-site R&D programme that seeks to continue improving design, logistics and build quality: the programme is increasing the number of building components fabricated and assembled in controlled factory conditions and transported to site. These include the elements of the substructure, superstructure and building envelope to achieve a weatherproof shell on a rapid programme from factory to site.


Research is being carried out across many disciplines, processes and components for a broad spectrum of clients and SCHOOL is bringing this together with a BIM implementation strategy designed to realise the demands of BIM Level 3. Discussions are ongoing with clients and contractors, designers, manufacturers and suppliers – including SMEs – to embrace BIM fully. The objective is to achieve integrated assembly, maintenance and life-cycle strategies for energy and component analysis and replacement that will bring efficiencies and cost savings.


Affordable Environments for Learning

SCHOOL buildings have been developed to support learning. The technical innovations have been driven by the need to create attractive and stimulating environments that are conducive to learning, namely calm spaces, natural lighting, natural ventilation and good acoustics, all within a flexible and adaptable building envelope. It is a means by which high standards in education building design can be achieved within limited budgets and tight time scales.

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