EDUCATION projects have formed the “backbone” of Morgan Sindall Construction’s work in Scotland in recent years.
The contractor has helped deliver a multitude of schools across the nation and recently handed over the new Hilltop Primary in Airdrie ahead of the new academic year.
The £17 million, two-storey school, which has capacity for 484 pupils, was created following the merger of Dunrobin and Petersburn primaries.
Like so many new schools in Scotland, the facility was built next to an existing school, which is now being demolished to make way for a sports pitch and extra car parking spaces.
Morgan Sindall has also completed the nearby St Edward’s and Tollbrae shared campus and was recently chosen by The Highland Council to deliver two new projects in that region, including a significant expansion to Inverness Gaelic Primary.
Stuart Parker, MD of Morgan Sindall Construction in Scotland, told Project Scotland, “Education has always been the backbone of our business and probably always will be. I’m actually from Airdrie so we know some of the kids who are going (to the new schools). The council put out some videos of their first day, showing the reactions as they walked into their new school for the first time. It’s really rewarding to see the impact it has, compared to what they were working in before.”
Stuart said some of the challenges involved in the construction of education buildings are similar to those which crop up in other sectors – particularly around issues such as affordability and availability of land.
“They tend to mostly be brownfield sites and a lot of them are what we refer to as ‘tandem builds’, where you have to build around the existing school while it’s still operational. Then in the second phase, you start to demolish the old building and put in (the playing fields).
“Safety is the biggest priority, followed by not disrupting the school day. We have a lot of experience in delivering these projects; we know how to do it and make sure we’ve got the right segregation.”
Stuart added that one of the advantages of building next to a ‘live’ school is the opportunity it presents to introduce children to construction and start them thinking about a potential future career in the sector – something that could become more vital as skills shortages deepen within the industry. As part of the firm’s pupil engagement strategy, Morgan Sindall tries to involve youngsters and teachers in the process and give them a say, where possible, in the design of external spaces and landscaping.
Stuart described the schools the contractor is building today as being “night and day” when compared with schools in previous eras – largely due to the Scottish Government and local authorities embracing the fact that buildings and the environment have a huge role to play in getting the best out of pupils. “One of the pillars of the Curriculum for Excellence is about developing responsible citizens,” Stuart explained. “More and more of the spaces are openplan, so the kids are taught from an early age that they need to be aware of their fellow pupils, control their noise levels and just be conscious and respectful of the people around them.
“There’s far more natural light. Ventilation’s much better, and it just makes for a more stimulating environment and keeps kids more engaged throughout the day.”
With pupils doing an increasing amount of work online, Wi-Fi connectivity and bandwidth capacity are major considerations. Stuart said that when it comes to M&E installations, a lot of thought goes into making sure the infrastructure is sufficient for any future technological developments which could potentially impact on learning methods.
Community facilities also play a prominent role in the construction of many modern schools. Morgan Sindall is currently developing a design with South Ayrshire Council and hub South West for a new campus in Maybole which will feature a swimming pool for use by the community. This type of feature also presents challenges, not least the task of designing the school in a way that you can ensure members of the public can only access public areas while schools are in session.
In terms of standout projects, Stuart highlighted the “architecturally stunning” Stoneywood Primary in Aberdeen, which at the time of build was the largest glulam structure in the UK; and Lairdsland Primary in Kirkintilloch, which was a ‘reference’ Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) school design.
“Recently in West Dunbartonshire we handed over Balloch Primary and we’re now developing the design for Renton Primary with them,” Stuart added. “They’re really pushing the boundaries of the space, getting educationalists involved and looking at how to make the spaces work for the educational outcomes they’re looking for.
“The last one you’ve handed over is always your favourite. The ones we’ve just delivered for North Lanarkshire are absolutely stunning so we’re really proud of them as well.”
Looking to the future of education buildings, Stuart is anticipating plenty of work on the back of the Scottish Government’s commitment to expanding early years education provision for pre-school age children.
“We’re currently developing designs for nine (early years facilities) in North Lanarkshire and three in South Lanarkshire through hub South West,” he added. “With the Highland Council we’ve delivered a number and have just been appointed on some more. Highland Council is taking more of a modular approach whereas in North and South Lanarkshire, it’s timber kit or traditional-type builds we’ve been looking at.”