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ISG goes modern to upgrade 10 schools in 24 months

Manchester City Council urgently needs a substantial injection of school places – and ISG has backed modern methods of construction to deliver them.

Project: Manchester Schools Programme 2017/18
Client: Manchester City Council
Main contractor: ISG
Contract value: £36m
Contract type: NEC3 Option A
Start date: January 2017
Completion date: December 2018

With sky-high rents and house prices forcing many young people out of the South-east, the UK’s provincial cities are becoming increasingly attractive.

Manchester has been one of the most popular destinations, but the influx of newcomers has put the city council on the back foot as it strives to meet local needs.

One area where the authority is seeing its resources stretched is in the provision of school places. To tackle this, the council has launched an ambitious programme through which main contractor ISG will deliver a raft of new schools and extended early learning facilities.

“The growth in population across Manchester and the North-west as a whole has been phenomenal,” says Manchester City Council head of major projects Barney Harle. “There has been a perfect storm of factors that has seen huge pressure put on us to deliver educational places for all those new residents.”

To relieve this pressure, the authority is using government grant funding to help progress the development of 10 schools in record time.

ISG has already delivered two of the projects: a £3.1m Early Years Foundation Stage facility at St Margaret’s primary, and the £2m dining room extension at St Matthew’s secondary under the 2017 Educational Basic Needs (EBN) programme.

Lightning speed

At St Margaret’s, the ISG team delivered the two-storey early learning facility on a section of the school in just three months.

The job was so rapid that the team was still finalising the building’s design as Yorkshire-based specialist Premier Modular was clearing the space on its production line.

St Margaret’s completion

ISG Manchester Schools Programme St Margarets 2

The school now has a £3.1m Early Years Foundation Stage facility

Manufactured using a lightweight steel-framing system, the units are designed around the size of a typical lorry trailer. There are 28 units in total including the plant. These provide more than 760 sq m of space across the two floors, which offer both large open-plan teaching areas and more typical classrooms.

“We have one base model for all the different projects,” says ISG senior design manager Jane Shaw. “We can accommodate design changes within that and incorporate end-user requirements to ensure the client gets exactly what is required.”

Post-construction BIM for clients

ISG has been quick to embrace BIM across its schemes and the benefits it can bring to the construction process.

However, frustrations have emerged over maintenance teams failing to fully utilise the BIM model post-handover, with the system becoming little more than data records. Without consistent updating by the teams, the model becomes less and less relevant over time.

To address this problem, the ISG team has introduced its Smart Form system in which asset forms feature permanent links to BIM datasets. These allow  FM teams to keep the dataset up-to-date and relevant by completing these forms when any change is implemented.

“This is a Manchester City Council pilot scheme for BIM Level 2 and the post-occupancy asset information model we have developed,” says Ms Shaw. “We think it will be really beneficial.”

However, the key is getting those requirements in as soon as possible, according to ISG senior project manager Warren Hough. “We have worked with our client and the end-users to get any changes or adaptations noted as soon as possible,” he says. “There has to be a design freeze at some point, but if we get those requests in early enough then modular systems can be very flexible.”

Modern lessons

ISG is taking the lessons learned in delivering these facilities onto its next challenge – the delivery of the remaining eight schools by September 2019.

Most of these will be built in a matter of months using modern methods of construction (MMC), with just work on the refurbishment of the existing Plymouth Grove Primary School carried out using traditional approaches.

Of the remaining seven schools to be delivered under the 2018 EBN programme, six are to be built using a modular prefabricated system, while the Armitage Primary School will be extended using structural insulated panels.

“What you can achieve in two weeks on site with a modular system will take you six-months using traditional methods”

Barney Harle, Manchester City Council

“We knew that the solution would be to use modern methods of construction,” explains ISG framework director Neil Walker. “The schools were designed for manufacture [with] the decision fundamentally programme-driven. Traditional build techniques would have taken far too long, so offsite had to be the way forward.”

The project team looked at various MMC solutions, but the lightweight steel-framed offering from Premier Modular was soon adopted as the favoured approach by all, including the client.

“I have experience with modular buildings and was happy for the ISG team to go down that route,” Mr Harle says. “What you can achieve in two weeks on site with a modular system will take you six months using traditional methods.”

Pushed through planning

Everything about the series of schemes has been carried out with one eye on the clock. In city locations, getting any project through the planning process can be challenging, but such is the demand for these educational facilities that the projects have been pushed through with applications cleared within a few weeks. The St Margaret’s school project was taken through planning in barely a month.

Timber look fibre cement cladding panels feature on the front elevation

ISG Manchester Schools Programme Beaver Road 4

Timber-effect fibre cement cladding panels feature on the front elevation

That focus on delivery has continued throughout the process and been carried from one project into another. Indeed, the benefit of having a single primary method of construction covering each school has seen iterative adaptations and improvements applied across all stages, from the tweaking of a cladding system and eliminating the need for flashing strips at each corner, to the introduction of a post-occupancy BIM update system (see box).

“We’ve adopted BIM Level 2 across the whole process,” Mr Walker says. “All the completed schools will have a fully integrated asset model which will be handed over to Manchester City Council. The new system we have enables the maintenance team to enter details of any new kit installed. It is an evolving BIM dataset.”

The council and its ISG team have clearly backed the MMC approach to deliver the smaller educational projects Greater Manchester requires. 

Completing 10 school projects in one city within 24 months will certainly represent a remarkable achievement for all concerned – and a ringing endorsement of modern construction methods.

Six-month Beaver expansion

In the suburb of Didsbury, the ISG team is applying the offsite mantra to a slightly different scheme.

Its other projects are all based around existing schools and located within the same grounds. However, its work at Beaver Road Primary School will provide a new building for 550 children on a separate site.

The new school campus will provide accommodation for pupils ahed nine to 11, leaving the existing site for the earlier years.

The site had housed student accommodation blocks, which were demolished ahead of the ISG team overseeing clearance of foundations and pockets of contamination. A 3.5 m-deep dig to take out the foundations and then treat the areas of hydrocarbon contamination enabled the team to level the site, creating a 7 m embankment across the rear of the site.

Preston-based piling contractor Mawson Piling installed 85 steel circular section piles 200 mm in diameter to depths of 8 m, before capping with reinforced concrete beams.

The three-storey building features double-height spaces in areas such as the sports hall. Here the units are double-stacked and were transported with a temporary floor/ceiling to retain their rigidity. These were stripped once the next unit has been fixed into position.

“There are 75 units in total, which took just under two weeks to bring into position,” says ISG senior construction manager Lee Holmes. “They are braced across the open sides to help stop any torsional movement during transportation and placement. These braces are removed once the units have been fixed into position.”

The units are clad with a timber-effect fibre cement board at the front elevation and a plain panel on the rear and side elevations. Drawing on lessons from the St Margaret’s project, the corner panels wrap around to eliminate the need for flashing sections.

Like the rest of the school projects, the new 1,300 sq m Beaver Road building will achieve a BREEAM Very Good rating. Most of the credits to hit this target stem from the airtightness of the overall build, its efficiency and natural ventilation system.

The first of the building modules arrived on site at the end of March, despite the contract not officially starting until the middle of January.

It is a testament to the speed and efficiency of the build process that the team will deliver a completely new school building in just six months.

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