New Zealand / Education

New design plans aim to fast-track school building projects

08:24 am on 8 December 2020

School principals hope a new set of off-the-shelf classroom designs will eliminate frustrating delays in building new rooms.

Photo: 123RF

The Education Ministry is developing a catalogue of "reference plans" schools can choose from to quick-start their building projects.

With millions of dollars budgeted for new classrooms over the next decade, the ministry said the plans would save money and time.

It said schools could still pay for bespoke designs if they preferred, but the catalogue of reference plans would give them a possible starting point for their buildings.

Waimea College principal Scott Haines said he had seen draft versions of the plans and he expected they would save a lot of time and effort.

"Very often the biggest friction point between ministry and schools around property is the timely provision of that property. This should enable us to get this property up and running a lot quicker, which has got to be a win for schools and for students," he said.

Haines said his school recently opened new classrooms that the government at the time announced nearly five years ago, at the start of 2016.

He said the delay between the announcement and completion was too long.

"The young men and women who generated the entitlement for that property started with us in 2016 and are just now seeing that building open for the last few months of their time here at this school and I just think to myself, that's not what timely provision of property looks like," Haines said.

He said the build could have been completed in perhaps half the time if the design process had been quicker.

Ormiston Primary School in Auckland has been growing fast, enrolling more than 300 children this year alone.

As a result, its principal Heath McNeil now has a lot of experience with getting classrooms built and he said principals would appreciate the ministry's new plans.

"The architects and the ministry come to you with sometimes a blank piece of paper and say 'so what do you want' and if it's in an older school it's often hard to imagine what it will look like or what you really want," he said.

He said in his experience it could take six to 10 months to finish the design process, and it would be great to speed that up.

"Once construction starts, that's the easy part. It's the huge amount of time that it's been taking historically to go from 'you're going to get new buildings or an upgrade' to that construction. That's what's holding up the projects," he said.

McNeil said another advantage of the reference plans was that they were proven to work and they should move more quickly through city council consent processes.

Ministry's education infrastructure service head Kim Shannon said it would put a catalogue of reference plans online early next year.

She said it would include 10 plans initially, most of them for primary schools, which had worked for other property projects.

"For some schools these catalogue designs will be the right starting point, but they aren't a requirement," Shannon said.

"Reference designs aren't solely about saving money, although we do expect to see cost efficiencies. For us, repeating designs we know work will make delivering high-quality school buildings easier and faster."

Shannon said the designs might speed up the building process for schools and free up principals to focus on teaching and learning.