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Future resilience of school and college estates

Jane Parrinder, National Account Manager at SPIE UK Ltd
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Since the pandemic, there have been some drastic changes across the facilities management sector, not least of all in the management of school and educational buildings. Alongside other public services, schools have faced a number of acute challenges as their estates have been closed, reopened and adjusted to adapt to the impact of the pandemic. Factors such as aging buildings, inner-city locations and original design concepts have made this adaptation more difficult.

These challenges are a sign of things to come, as climate change forces us to rethink what we need from our school, college, and university estates.

Furthermore, to meet these challenges, the education sector will require the introduction of new technologies into their estate. This might be renewable energy solutions for reduced carbon emissions or smart building management systems to optimise heating and lighting use. As schools and colleges work to play their part in combatting climate change, whilst also adapting to it, facilities managers need to help their partners in the education sector to tackle these challenges head-on so they can maintain, improve and build learning environments for the future.

Facilities management regulations that govern education premises

Buildings used for education rightly must meet specific regulation. The Department for Education has produced advice to help the industry understand their obligations and duties in relation to The School Premises Regulations 2012 (England) and the Building Bulletins to set out standards to observe quality and maintenance of toilet and washing facilities, medical accommodation, health safety and welfare, acoustics, lighting, water supplies and outdoor spaces fit for physical education.

As it stands, an estimated 3.4 million British children are learning in an unhealthy environment with high levels of small particle pollution, according to Global Action Plan (Gap).

As we continue to live in a pandemic environment, there is every likelihood that these regulations will change and adapt to include factors such as room temperature, lighting and most importantly, addressing the direct impact of poor indoor air quality as their impact on wellbeing and learning are better understood.

This will create further complexity and compliance issues for education organisations which will need to be resolved. Luckily, the facilities and management sector is well equipped to deal with these challenges. The academy chains are a good example of how the education sector can make good use of outsourced FM services. They are looking to procure services that will ensure they are compliant with building regulations and legislation such as meeting the RR(FS) Order 2005 requirements. They tap into ‘bolt on’ services as needed, such as building condition surveys or lifecycle planning, to better understand budgetary needs for the following 5 or 10 years. Buying in from a professional FM company will give the academy chains surety on compliance, access to records management without the IT investment, and specialist expertise in engineering and design, without the need to hold this within their own organisation.

Future resilience of school estates

School leaders and administration staff are responsible for delivering the best learning environment possible to the students in their care, they shouldn’t be expected to have a comprehensive understanding of facilities management. As the facilities management sector has been brought in more regularly to work with education organisations, so they have realised that tasks can be outsourced and service levels agreed that meet regulatory requirements and guarantee professional delivery of services. This has also brought with it a reassessment of school estates as assets, instead of being a cost. Taking such an approach is going to be critical as the education sector thinks about future investments in its estate to improve health and wellbeing, following the pandemic, and to adapt to climate change.

Another key role that facilities managers can play is as a provider and facilitator of specialist expertise. It is unlikely, if not unreasonable, to think that schools will develop the skills to manage and optimise smart building controls or renewable energy systems, at least in the short term. For many facilities managers, however, such technology is either part of their everyday work in other sectors, such as offices, or they have partnerships with trusted suppliers that they can collaborate with to deliver integrated solutions. This is where schools are beginning to see real value from working with facilities management providers.

Not only can they deliver a basic level of service that guarantees compliance in line with relevant legislation, they can also support educational facilities to overcome complex challenges in terms of improving building performance, energy efficiency, space optimisation and meeting carbon reduction targets. All of this is without the school having to invest in that capability itself. This will become more critical as schools look to lessen their carbon footprint by, for example, upgrading their heating system to a sustainable alternative.

Looking forward

Facilities management now has the opportunity to lead the school estate revolution. In the same vein, schools are also realising there are other industries to support them. Facilities management will play a crucial role helping schools, colleges and universities adapt and upgrade to solve the complex problems that they are now being given responsibility for.

In many cases, whilst the technology and the solutions used to solve these challenges are well known, the real-world application of them remains at the forefront of the commercial sector, let alone the public sector. As such, it will be critical that the facilities management sector brings its learnings and expertise to bear to integrate new technology and operational improvements.

Providing safe, healthy, and effective spaces in which to learn is an incredible responsibility. The facilities management sector has a broad level of knowledge to draw on in making this a reality.

With educators facing the effects of pandemics, long term health concerns and climate change, the two sectors need to work together to make sure that young people are given the best start possible.

Jane Parrinder, National Account Manager at SPIE UK Ltd

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