Raymond Millar looks at the design and offsite construction of a new state-of-the-art academy in Slough and how it was delivered several months 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 new innovations which 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 1140-place academy specialising in science, technology, engineering and maths, and was built by principal contractor and offsite specialist, The McAvoy Group for the Learning Alliance Academy Trust. In recognition of its success, the project has already been shortlisted for five industry awards.

Designed by Blue Sky Architects and funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), this three-storey 8750m2 building is an exemplar offsite education project which has a design inspired by the 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, the construction of a new sports stadium adjacent to Lynch Hill, restricted site 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.

Design Criteria
The design brief set out a number of important criteria, all within the ESFA’s available budget, which the project successfully met.

  • It had to 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.
  • It had to create an environment for collaborative learning and mentoring, and provide good visibility as part of the school’s anti-bullying strategy.
  • It had to have excellent acoustic performance
  • Community access was required to the sports facilities.

A design to encourage collaborative learning
The school is designed around four large multi-functional central spaces which help to maximise natural light and encourage interaction and 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 with brise soleil sunshading, and a palette of materials which 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, 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.

There is a four-court sports hall and a main hall with retractable seating which were constructed using a fast-track steel system. The sports hall can be separated and secured from the rest of the school out of hours.

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. There are outdoor teaching spaces, a soft landscaped study garden, social area, multi-use games areas, and a sports pitch.

Technical advancements in offsite construction
Lynch Hill demonstrates a number of technical advancements in offsite construction. Larger 15.6mlong modules and a new lifting system were specially engineeredby 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 also removed the need for storage of large volumes of building materials on the site, helping to address the issue of restricted access.

Around 65 per cent of the building’s construction was completed offsite, radically reducing any disruption toteaching. One hundred and fortysixmodules 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, Project Manager for the Lynch Hill scheme at the Education and Skills Funding Agency said: “The main driver for offsite construction 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. The solution has worked very well for Lynch Hill and we have had such positive feedback from both parents and staff.”

Digitising construction
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 ofa project. Going forward, the increased use of BIM will deliver shorter design periods, giving schools 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. This enables the estates team to have all information needed for maintenance available in the best possible way.

Since the inception of Lynch Hill, McAvoy now offers virtual reality technology 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, assess usability, circulation, layouts and adjacencies. This is hugely beneficial for stakeholder engagement, further streamlining the design process, and facilitating more informed decision making.

Raymond Millar is Construction Director of The McAvoy Group, one of the UK’s leading offsite construction specialists. An independent, family-owned business and an established principal contractor, McAvoy has been providing bespoke offsite solutions and interim modular buildings for more than 40 years. It delivers fast-track projects of the highest quality for the health, education, commercial and infrastructure sectors, with less impact on the environment and greater assurance of completion on time and on budget

For more information, please see www.mcavoygroup.com