The concept of school buildings have traditionally been spaces where children “sit and get” a learning experience in accordance with their age groups. It includes strict schedules of 40 to 50 minutes duration classes before moving on to another subject and another classroom of similar design.
This type of schooling is prevalent for all categories – from kindergarten through middle school to high school. However a new line of thought has emerged now that traditional school spaces need to be so modified that they enhance the learning experience as well as provide an environment where children can be better nurtured.
What has specifically given rise to this line of thinking is the perception of education that has changed over time. School experiences have gradually shifted from being a purely bookish experience to where learning includes all round development of physical and mental faculties. Focus is now simultaneously given on enhancement of knowledge levels as well as skill sets in various vocations.
Given this modern awareness, school authorities are today opting for buildings that support these next generation requirements. Most importantly blending seamlessly into next gen needs does not require sanction of any grandiose plans or elaborate budgets.
This is quite unlike other sectors or industries. For example think for a moment about a mid-level garage and service station wanting to upgrade facilities so that it can be authorised to issue road worthy certificate in Melbourne or anywhere else in Australia. The investment in such a case will definitely be substantial.
What will a next gen school look like? The first is of course better utilisation of existing space. In conventional school buildings, long and winding corridors are usually the norm and these take up about 25 to 30 percent of space. Now these spaces are being changed to facilitate close interaction amongst small groups of students or for providing small reading nooks for individuals.
For new school buildings, the latest concepts are integrated into the plans and architecture of the buildings. Next gen school buildings focus on the concept of anytime and anywhere learning atmosphere. There are usually lots of classrooms where students congregate for an informal learning environment unlike strait jacketed classrooms specially allotted for a section. Modern classrooms are large, airy and open up onto large community spaces where children of all age groups can mingle with each other after classes.
Next gen school buildings are also structured according to the specific needs of students. Those stressing on specialised vocational training along with formal classroom education have large spaces for workshops as well as classrooms. On the other hand, those wanting their pupils to have a formal learning experience will focus more on having a large number of classrooms. Just as their parents will choose a certified service station for car air conditioning regas, they too can choose a school according to the goals that they would want their children to achieve in life.
A school is often so connected with education, learning and curriculum that a very important and crucial aspect is missed out. That is the design and construction of the building that is also an integral part of the learning process. It plays a vital role in mind and psyche development and is often directly linked to the expansion of mental faculties of children. This is one reason why managements of both public and private schools focus so much on construction and designs of new schools and renovation of existing ones.
All over the world, psychologists work closely with builders and designers to build schools that foster a high level of leaning. This goes a long way to prove that education is not only about grades and specific teaching tools. The environment that students stay in throughout the day also matters a lot. Studies have also shown that schools that have an open-ended environment, one that is in close contact with nature and the world outside have students who are more receptive to the learning process. Innovative school buildings have got nothing to do with the passion for education; it is entirely related to all round maturity of children not cooped up in dingy school buildings.
All these factors point to the importance of engaging specialised school builders for any new project. These are firms that know about the psyche of students as well as parents and thereby design schools accordingly. Many parents for instance are wary of schools that stretch right from kindergarten to high schools. The very thought of hulking teens in middle or high school sections dominating over little kids in primaries can be overwhelming. The trend therefore in innovative school designs is to segregate sections so that children and teens of the same maturity levels can intermix freely. However, this is not possible always as this concept requires huge areas that not all school committees or boards can afford.
If an innovative process has to be initiated for building schools, traditional management goals have to be junked, albeit partly at least. These usually consist of schedules for construction, budget and efficiency. It can kill innovation totally and make way for the same stereotyped school models. This is especially true for public schools that have numerous push and pulls to contend with not least having to meet political expectations and deadlines and to fill up a certain number of seats in a given time frame.
Additionally, the more innovative is the design the greater is the construction time. A company specialising in solid plastering in Melbourne for example will take more time to complete a project if the designs are intricate and the walls and ceilings have to be plastered in floral patterns.
Here are a few innovations in school designs that are currently trending today.
The first is building green and sustainable schools that seek to blend in harmoniously with nature. Some of the techniques that are integrated in this type of construction include water harvesting, computer generated lighting and optimised heating and cooling systems. One advantage here is that children from a very young age are made aware of the necessity to save the environment from the effects of pollution and global warming.
There is a mistaken notion that innovative designs in school building construction cost more than conventional structures. That it is not true is proved by the design of Rosa Parks School in Portland, Ore. There is a large common hall in the middle with four clusters or modules grouped around it, something on the lines of “neighbourhoods” clustered around a large community field. The interior walls are transparent and enable all students regardless of the class they are in to feel connected with each other. Large windows with mountain views add to the overall school experience.
Another example is of the High Tech High Chula Vista near San Diego. It is definitely a unique concept with walls that are large expanses of glass. The partitions can be moved when needed if teachers want to readjust class rooms according to their needs or to make a common area for a cultural evening programme.
These are some of the innovative school c construction ideas that are showing the way for others to follow.
Building a home is far different from building a school. While a contract for your home with the builder will usually have the plan, the materials to be used, time of completion and the costs, building a school goes a step further. It has to be remembered that it should also cover children’s safety, health and hygiene and child specific features. The laws relating to building schools are very stringent and it is always advisable that you carry out intensive research in this matter and have detailed discussions with the school regulatory bodies before taking the first step.
The next step is carrying out due diligence while finalising your builder and this will help you know if the contractor can be relied upon. Get a list of school projects that the contractor has worked on before. For each of the projects find out the grade levels it was built to accommodate and the area under construction. Both should match the school that you have in mind.
Construction costs, whether the project was finished within the stipulated contractual time and any penalties paid due an error on the part of the builder are some of the other things that also needs to be looked into while verifying the antecedents of the builder.
Professional liability insurance – Most contractors have a professional liability insurance of around a million dollars while in reality a school project can cost ten times that. You can get the contractor to increase the coverage but that might in turn mean higher fees charged by them. Alternately, the school district can ask the contractor to have a specific project liability insurance that covers your school project from all defective work carried out by the engineers, architects, surveyors and anybody connected with the project.
Contract issues – Clarify contract issues with both the architect and the construction manager. Some of the aspects that should be taken into account are scope of basic services and fees, standard of work, review of work carried out by consultants and other trade contractors and independent testing agencies. Ensure that there are no conflicts among various project agreements. However, these factors are quite complicated and definitely beyond comprehension of the common man necessitating legal advice in this regard.
While school districts do have safeguards in place that make sure that contractual agreements are followed to the letter, there is no harm in exercising caution in this regard. Get in touch with a law firm of property and business lawyers in Melbourne or wherever your project might be to take care of the legal aspects, especially the contractual side of building the school.
You can also have surety bonds linked with the bid packages to ensure that the performance bonds remain valid and in effect till all the contracted work has been completed and in some cases even years after the project has been completed.
These are some of the legal aspects that should be taken care of when building a school. As said, it is preferable to leave these matters in the competent hands of business lawyers.
Building a school may be a part of general and civil construction but there are other areas that need to be carefully looked into as the health of children is very important. Hence, specific ideas and concepts have to be formulated and put in place before a school building can be constructed. If you want to get into this exclusive chosen field of construction, following a few steps will help you on your way.
Get the required qualifications – You might choose to be a hands-on builder who will be involved in every aspect of school building or you can have an office and employ engineers, architects and builders. In both cases it is advisable that you acquire basic qualifications. There are a lot of courses offered by different Australian Universities and Institutions where you gain an in-depth knowledge of construction. Civil engineering courses usually have definite areas of specialisation like building of residential units, commercial complexes or plants and factories. You can choose to focus on building schools.
Get necessary licences and permits – In all States of Australia, general construction laws and regulations are very precise and strict, more so for those aspiring to be a school builder. Instead of trying to unravel the complexities on your own, it is recommended that you get an experienced business consultant to do it for you. He/she will know the relevant documents to be submitted to the licensing authorities as well as the required fees. You’ll be taken through the steps until you get the required permits to start off on your venture.
Get a business plan – As a school builder, your business plan will be a bit different from the general ones. In conventional business plans related to manufacturing or trading ventures, one business plan is formulated taking into account financial, marketing and other verticals. But for you there will be a difference. Any school project that you take up will be unique in its kind. What will be required for a kindergarten will be different from that of a middle school and high school.
Every project has to be taken in its entirety and plans made to suit it. However, you can get the consultant to make an approximate estimate of your working capital requirements based on a fixed and expected number of constructions per year. You can also estimate the capital investment in construction equipment and have all these factors incorporated in the plan. However, in the early stages, lease expensive equipment instead of outright purchase to reduce the quantum of initial investments. Submit this plan to lenders and financial institutions if you need credit limits sanctioned for your company.
Get experts on board – You will need to hire staff from the word go – architects, engineers, equipment operators (if you buy equipment). They will be the backbone of your company, good for any project that you take up. On the other hand, there are painters and carpenters and masons that you will need too. Their numbers will depend on the size of the school that will be built. Hence, it is preferable not to hire permanent tradesmen but get them as per your requirements. Here too, you will get help at hand. If you are a resident of Victoria, contact labour hire companies in Melbourne to take up this hiring exercise. Likewise for other states too. These companies have databases of skilled and unskilled labour looking for jobs and your vacancies will be filled up in no time, even though on a temporary project to project basis.
Start small –If you are aspiring to be a school builder, start small, say with a small kindergarten or primary school building. There are two advantages to it. First, your investment will be low and you don’t have to depend on external borrowings to start work. Secondly, you will gain the required experience of building schools and can expand your skill sets as you go along.
Follow these simple steps to become a school builder and you will surely succeed in your chosen field.