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John Youle, Beard Oxford Director

End of year review: Beard

John Youle, Beard Oxford Director, gives his verdict on 2015

Posted by Stephanie Broad | December 22, 2015 | People, policy, politics, money

What has been the most interesting development or project for you this year?

Two interesting Beard projects that stand out this year are both based at the University of Oxford. The first is The Queen’s College where we are constructing a basement library extension adjacent to the Grade 1-listed library and under the Provost’s garden; and Worcester College where we are building the new Nazrin Shah Building, which will provide a new lecture theatre and seminar rooms, due for completion in Autumn 2016. 

On the Worcester College project we are working with architects Niall McLaughlin Associates who we worked with on the multi-award winning Bishop Edward King Chapel at Ripon Theological College in Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire, which was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize. The Nazrin Shah Building at Worcester College will be an equally exciting building.

Have you seen any new techniques, materials or cost-saving methods, from home or abroad?

The project to build a new KS1 building for Davenies School in Beaconsfield was one of two buildings we have constructed using cross-laminated timber building frames. These solid timber panels form the walls, floor and roof structure giving a very solid easy to work on building which can achieve a watertight envelope early in the programme. It’s also sustainable because the timber is sourced from managed forests in mainland Europe where it has been used for a number of years.  It’s quite unusual for the UK.


Davenies School, which uses laminated timber

What challenges exist for building great educational establishments?

The schools and colleges we work with face many challenges, some which are common and others that are unique to each establishment. The main two relate to budget and logistics.

Budget is a common challenge in both public and private sector education projects, and while this can limit choice, it must still deliver value for money. This applies to big budget projects too.

Logistics are very often a challenge, particularly when you are working around live teaching environments where you need to ensure sufficient facilities and teaching space is maintained while new facilities are built. This can mean quite complex phasing of work, which needs early planning between the contractor and the school or college. 

In the state sector, some government procurement practices have resulted in the creation of construction frameworks that are poorly suited to deliver good value for money projects. This is going to be an increasing challenge in the future for schools which are not able to make their own procurement decisions. 

How has the outcome of this year’s General Election affected school building activity?

I don’t think that there has been a marked effect at the moment. Perhaps the independent sector is more confident to press ahead with development and certainly the level of activity has been growing over the last couple of years. In the state sector the need for primary school places to cope with population changes has been the biggest driver of school construction work.

What is your top tip for schools, colleges and universities to look after their buildings?

Firstly, think about how the building is going to be used and design-in appropriate finishes and services that will be attractive, function well and be robust! The organisational culture is also important – buildings last longer if they are properly looked after, cared for and respected.  We go back to buildings when they have been in use for a year and some are as good as the day they were handed over and are clearly loved by the people who work there. Sometimes, however, this isn’t the case and the buildings already look shabby and neglected which sends a message to people that they don’t need to care.

What does the future look like for construction in education? 

Education will continue to be a strong customer for construction. The primary school expansion programmes of the last few years will have to continue to secondary and higher education. The sector that is under represented (and underfunded) is further education, particularly for vocational courses. This is going to contribute to the skills shortage in construction as young people are not sufficiently encouraged at school or by the industry to choose construction trades and careers.


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