BSEE Magazine – Schools Space for the Future

Adrian Witty of Portable Offices looks at the renaissance in pre-fabricated buildings as a recession-proof solution for education expansion needs and dispels some outdated ‘cabin myths’

Despite the gloomy trading conditions and cut-backs, pre-schools and nurseries are still enjoying some benefits which include the Government’s move to extend free part-time places to 40 per cent of two year-olds by 2014.

In the UK, the Government fully funded part of the pre-school learning programme entitles each child to 12.5 hours of free learning each week at the ages of three and four. Over this age and the entitlement rises to 15 hours per week. These places are available at all types of day nurseries, nursery classes in primary schools, accredited child minders and Sure Start children’s centres and this has seen a continued albeit slower, growth in early years education.

In the past, many nursery and pre-school start-ups benefited from funding help from local authorities to help with initial costs. Sadly, this has declined considerably over the past few years as a result of budget cuts.

However, determined not to let this climate of austerity beat them, an increasing numbers of schools are funding their own projects with privately funded investment and are shopping around keen to ‘buy more for their buck.’

Portable accommodation is one solution which offers a flexible and cost-effective alternative to traditional building methods, which can sometimes be expensive and disruptive. It has come a long way from the outdated pre-fab approach and can now even mirror a traditional brick-built or cedar clad façade with an enduring longevity and a high degree of ‘kerb appeal.’

Cedar cladding is proving a particularly attractive option to schools looking for an aesthetically pleasing frontage which is still low maintenance and doesn’t require any treatment or preservative. Planning applications featuring this option appear to be preferred perhaps denoting an environmental twist to local authorities.

Super eco credentials make portable buildings increasingly attractive in today’s environmentally- conscious culture. Pre-loved portable buildings can make an enormous difference to small business users – enabling them to expand their premises with less outlay than they expect and to really expand their business premises on tight budgets.

Savings of around 40-50% can be achieved on these units without any compromise on reliability and with a full warranty on a hire or purchase basis.

With a committed team of dedicated professionals used to working alongside local government departments, Portable Offices Ltd develop and construct all types of structures from the every day extension to the more revolutionary facility. But all accommodation fulfils a specific need, whether that is for more teaching accommodation or changing rooms or staff facilities.

In fact, Government strategy to do away with staff rooms or ‘staff only’ areas has met with considerable resistance from teaching staff, again leading to them fund their own projects to cater for these areas that they deem as a vital resource.

Over the past 12 months, the number of education based solutions has increased and the need is growing as more schools look at ways of making their capital expenditure and budgets go further.

The low maintenance element of portable accommodation is another reason it is so attractive in today’s climate where the building’s integrity and longevity is of vital importance.

Many nurseries are established on the site of existing primary schools which can provide easy access for new pupils. However, your own site can provide greater profit margin for self-run nurseries. This doesn’t have to result in heavy building costs or design compromises. Securing an appropriate building plot can be the first step to a purpose-built state-of-the-art nursery school.

Nowadays, portable accommodation or modular buildings offer a turn-key solution to new build needs with fast turnarounds of just six to eight weeks in many cases.

When Joanne Mullin established The Kidzone After School Club her over-riding concern was a cost-effective, fast-track construction. She went down the route of a modular building which was established as a stand-alone nursery school provided by modular buildings supplier, Portable Offices who assisted, manager, Joanne Mullin through all stages of development from planning and ground works right through to a practical completion.

Joanne was one of the lucky ones to secure a capital grant from the local authority who recognised the vital role that the club would provide for those children in need of a nurturing environment to visit before and after school and in the holidays.

Joanne commented: “Initially, some of the parents expressed some reservations about the prospect of portable accommodation, no doubt imagining a scruffy, damp cabin. The reality is miles away from this outdated perception. Instead, the building is quite state-of-the-art and provides a clean, warm bright environment which encourages the children’s creativity.”

In the case of Heighington Nursery in Lincolnshire, Sarah Turfrey joined the small pre-school with just eight children that operated from the Jubilee Hall 10 years ago and three years ago she took over as manager, now the pre-school has 47 children aged between two and four years of age. Just 18 months ago, the chairman of the Parish Council announced that the pre-school had outgrown the hall and informed Sarah that she would need to arrange alternative accommodation.

Sarah said: “Initially, I was devastated. I approached the village school and finally, last September, when they became an academy with more autonomy, they agreed we could go on their land.

“The nursery had just £15,000 in its coffers at the time, so not a lot to establish a credible building. I looked around at portable accommodation as this was the most cost-effective and flexible solution, but nobody I initially contacted could provide a quality building for my budget. Finally, I contacted Portable Offices Limited who agreed they could help with a refurbished unit and not only help with the unit but also with architect and planning support.”

Sarah contacted her local authority but they had no budget available to help with her project. So, Sarah with the support and help from staff and parents set about raising funds through village events and sponsorship activities.

She said: “We arranged sponsored walks, indulgence evenings, charity auctions, quiz nights. You name it and we did it – and quickly.”

She raised £20,000 which included a small amount of her private money and finally managed to get a tiny grant from the local authority to cover the connection of water and electric to the modular building and to fit out the kitchen with a cooker and fridge.

After an eight month process of planning permission, building control, flood risk assessments and ground works, a 117 sq metre nursery space was agreed for a two year period with an option to extend.

When the portable building recently arrived on site the large crane and the lorries carrying the building soon attracted the attention of most of the village and the pre-school children and staff came to see the erection and cheer the construction team on.

“It is beautifully refurbished – immaculate, light, bright and warm complete with baby toilets and small hand basins with a new fitted kitchen and new lighting, decorated throughout with new flooring and a cosy corner where a sofa now sits. We are all truly delighted with the finished building,” Sarah said.

SOURCE: BSEE Magazine – Schools Space for the Future

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