Raymond Millar, Construction Director at the McAvoy Group and Buildoffsite member, looks at the design and offsite construction of a new state-of-the-art academy in Slough and how it was delivered weeks ahead of programme
Lynch Hill Enterprise Academy is a £20m education campus and one of the largest-ever modular schools to be built in the UK. It demonstrates a number of innovations that contributed to its early completion – an unprecedented 17 weeks ahead of programme, giving this new free school the benefit of even earlier occupation.
Lynch Hill is a 1,140-place academy built offsite by principal contractor the McAvoy Group for the Learning Alliance Academy Trust. In recognition of its success, the project has already been shortlisted for five industry awards.
Funded by the Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), this three-storey, 8,750m2 building is an exemplar offsite education project which has a design inspired by the world-leading Harvard Business School.
The design for Lynch Hill was initially developed for another site and then had to be adapted for a second and final brownfield site. The build programme had to accommodate extensive demolition works, asbestos removal, restricted access and the school’s first intake of pupils, who were located in temporary buildings also on the site.
Construction had to be phased to allow early handover of the sports hall and changing facilities for use by the school.
The design brief set out a number of important criteria, all to be met within the ESFA’s available budget:
- Facilitate the exchange of knowledge with business and encourage a sense of enterprise among students, thereby helping to bridge the skills gap for local companies.
- Create an environment for collaborative learning and mentoring, and provide good visibility as part of the school’s anti-bullying strategy.
- Excellent acoustic performance.
- Community access to the sports facilities.
A design to encourage collaborative learning
The school is designed around four large multi-functional central spaces that help to maximise natural light and encourage collaborative learning. The use of inspirational messages and bold colours throughout reflects the academy’s ethos of enterprise, aspiration and achievement.
The building features an impressive full-height glazed entrance, a striking timber colonnade and a palette of materials that includes render and timber-effect rainscreen cladding to harmonise the scheme in its semi-rural location.
Outstanding educational facilities
Offsite construction was used for the curriculum wing. Facilities include science laboratories, an ICT suite, SEN hub, studios for music, drama and art, areas for informal learning, sixth form study and social space, kitchen and café. An enterprise exchange runs through the core of the building on two levels to facilitate collaboration with local businesses.
Externally there is a landscaped area and social space, which form a large arrival plaza at the front of the school. This creates a sense of place and identity for the academy and encourages informal gatherings with its planting and seating.
Technical advancements in offsite construction
Lynch Hill demonstrates a number of technical advancements in offsite construction. Larger, 15.6m-long modules and a new lifting system were specially engineered by McAvoy for the project, which reduced time, transport and installation costs and further improved construction efficiency. Some of the steel-framed modules were pre-clad offsite in the factory to further reduce time on site.
The use of a McAvoy offsite solution removed the need for storage of large volumes of building materials on the site, helping to address the issue of restricted access.
Around 65% of the building’s construction was completed offsite. A total of146 modules were installed with doors, windows, ironmongery, internal walls, plumbing, electrics and joinery already in place. This approach reduced the build programme to just 53 weeks.
The build programme was around six months less compared to site-based construction for a school of this scale.
The client perspective
Phil Clarke, ESFA Project Manager, said: “The main driver for offsite for this project was speed – and to see a building of this scale constructed so quickly was amazing. The McAvoy construction team was fantastic and demonstrated a high level of skill and flexibility.
“The combination of steel-framed construction and the offsite solution works really well and is seamless. You would never know this was a modular build. This is an outstanding secondary school scheme.”
Gillian Coffey, Executive Head Teacher at Lynch Hill, said: “This new academy has been developed to address a severe shortfall in school places in Slough. The facilities are terrific and the children are enjoying a fantastic new learning environment and the benefits of cutting-edge design. The building works very well to optimise the space, to provide excellent acoustic performance and high levels of natural light, and to futureproof the needs of the children.
“The speed of offsite construction was the biggest benefit of the approach on this project. To build a school of this scale over two floors and using a state-of-the-art design within a year is amazing.”
BIM was valuable for the Lynch Hill project, allowing design plans to be reviewed for clash detection of services with the modular structure. This helped to ensure seamless construction and removed the need for additional site works.
BIM allows processes to be streamlined to help deliver better decision making at the earliest possible stages in the life of a project. The increased use of BIM will deliver shorter design periods, giving schools and LEAs the benefit of reduced risk and even earlier occupation. It also allows all of the necessary technical data for the building assets to be embedded into models.
Since the inception of Lynch Hill, McAvoy now offers virtual reality, which is particularly valuable for education schemes to enhance stakeholder collaboration. Teaching staff can now be ‘put into’ a virtual building and have the opportunity to ‘walk around’ the building at the earliest design stage to feel and experience its functionality and assess usability.
The industry view
Commenting on the project, Ian Pannell, a Director of Buildoffsite, said: “This project takes the use of offsite for secondary schools to a completely new level for speed, quality and design.
“Time and cost overruns on both public and private sector building projects are still unacceptably high. By contrast and as McAvoy successfully demonstrates with Lynch Hill, offsite construction can significantly reduce risk with much greater assurance of delivery on time and on budget.
“It is also fantastic to see the synergy between offsite solutions and the latest digital technologies. Harnessing BIM allows processes to be streamlined even further, to help facilitate better decision making among schools and local authorities. The enhanced stakeholder engagement at the earliest possible stages of a project will result in truly outstanding buildings.”
The McAvoy Group
Tel: +44 (0)845 076 0100