The Education Funding Agency visits Innovaré

Osborne subsidiary Innovaré, generated some excellent press coverage in ‘Infrastructure Intelligence’ after Education Funding Agency (EFA) director, Mike Green, recently visited the Coventry factory after the EFA was awarded £17billon over five years to address issues with school stock.

“The Education Funding Agency (EFA) currently has 24,000 schools under their control and has conducted a survey to fully understand their condition. Within this number there are approximately 10,000 CLASP (Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme) and SCOLA (Second Consortium of Local Authorities) type school buildings which have gone well past their design and are in need of significant attention.

In addition to this, the expectation of schools getting rebuilt under Building Schools for the Future (BSF) meant that many Local Authorities held back on the maintenance programmes to their school stock. This has heightened the necessity for major attention to the school fabric.

The EFA have been awarded a significant budget by the Government, £17 billion over the next 5 years, to deal with these issues and improve the school stock.

With Phase 1 of the Priority Schools Buildings Programme (PSBP1), the EFA has been successful in halving the cost of building new schools compared to BSF. The EFA are working towards for this level of success to continue with PSBP2 and the Regional frameworks.

In the lead up to PSBP2, Mike Green the Director, Capital, of the Education Funding Agency (EFA) visited Coventry to investigate how modern methods of construction worked to make PSBP1 schemes cost-effective, profitable and successful,  and discover how they are being applied to create new and exciting solutions for those building in the Education sector.

Mike Green joined the EFA in 2012, after leading large multisite refit programmes for Boots Retail. He is responsible for delivering, building and maintenance programmes for the school stock in the England, including project managing new builds for schools in greatest need.

Innovaré System’s manufacturing facility in Coventry has built over 50 schools for the EFA over the last year. This is the 3rd EFA visit to Innovaré and is a follow up to Mike Green’s site visits to a number of Innovaré’s completed projects.

Mike was keen to see how a more bespoke modular approach could be applied to EFA Modular schools frameworks by the EFA, saying “modular school structures must look just like normal buildings”.

“But standardisation is the key”, he says, “standard classrooms, and even halls, could be held in stock to be called off for faster build. Design needs to be less heavily controlled from the top-down and the influence of specialists, such as Innovaré, should be brought in at an earlier time.”

Therefore, a more integrated approach to the school design between Architects, contractors and specialist contractors?

“The architect needs to ensure many things, not just that the form and function of the buildings follows and fits within its local context, vernacular and environment. But there are a variety of stakeholders who are now so instrumental in all technical aspects, whose importance cannot be ignored if we are to raise quality of teaching standards.”

Mike is referring to the fact that quality of teaching is by far the most important factor for school success, with research suggesting a link between quality of school buildings and quality of education.

“Contributing our expertise to the design and engineering of schemes, long before contracts have been signed, has been the key to our most successful partnerships with specifiers and contractors.” Innovaré Managing Director, Pete Blunt explains.

“PSBP frameworks simply could not work without that commitment and involvement, and is now equally applicable to any school or academy we contribute to.”

The Agency maintains strong working relationships with Main Contractors (MCs) on their education schemes, working with Wates, Bowmer & Kirkland, Galiford Try, BAM and Kier.

Innovaré has had great success developing and applying Modular i-SIP, an off-site system, to the first phase of the PSBP 1 with two of the aforementioned MCs, Wates Construction and Bowmer & Kirkland. A blend of off-site technologies, including using structural insulated panels (SIPs) for energy efficient walls, have been used to develop schools which both meet the performance requirements of the Facilities Output Specification and hit the budget.

During the factory tour, Pete explains that by using a flexible ‘kit of parts’ Innovaré can custom engineer modular components, creating a flexible system which can finely balance the acoustic, daylighting, M&E needs and thermal comfort of any school building.

“It means for architect and main contractor, we achieve full compliance. Whilst delivering at a small fraction of the time of other methods of build.” Pete says.“Compliance, flexibility and rapid delivery is our mantra”.

“Schools should not be picked out of a brochure like furniture.” Pete adds, “Some providers offer this by removing both architect and main contractor out of the equation. Without their contribution, their expertise is lost and there is no separation of powers. The end-result is buildings geared for the economies of modular production processes. Not for the creation of exemplar learning environments.”

“Instead, by working closely alongside those stakeholders and sharing our expertise in applying such modular and off-site solutions to education-specific challenges, we can meet the high environmental requirements and match it with the value-engineering to control costs. So everyone benefits.”

“This has really been what’s behind the drive for innovation within the Modular i-SIP approach”

Pete explains how Modular i-SIP, as panellised form of modular construction, introduces the ideal amount of economic repetition of elements in the interests of cost, whilst being able to maintain the completely bespoke and flexible nature of the design.

“Everyone wants schools that look like schools. Not modular buildings”, Mike says.

“Exactly” says Pete. “We use timber, concrete, steel. Anything depending on our client’s needs. From cost, to whether it meets the desired performance. We control everything that we deliver from design, engineering to production and installation. Only then, can we tailor the complete delivery from start to finish towards our client’s needs.”                                                                            

Mike commented on the feedback he’s received on Innovaré’s performance. “Everyone is talking about you.” He says. “As far as we know, you manage to produce the only off-site system which can meet the Facilities Output Specification.”

At the end of the tour, Mike concluded by saying he really likes what we do and would love to make us some big promises. There are plenty of schools to build in coming years and should we continue our good work, we will be build lots of them. “I would personally invest in the company, if I could!” he jokes.”

This article was featured in Infrastructure Intelligence on 19th October 2015.