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Offsite construction boosts facilities at SEN school

David Clark, from the McAvoy Group, looks at the award-winning West Hill School project, and how offsite construction engineered a complex solution

Posted by Julian Owen | October 05, 2018 | Bricks & mortar

West Hill School is a special educational needs (SEN) school, rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted, which required new teaching spaces to accommodate its conversion from secondary education provision to a two-form entry primary school.

The McAvoy Group was appointed by Surrey County Council to design and build a scheme that would link the traditionally-constructed main building and an existing modular classroom block on a highly constrained, fully operational school site.

The offsite solution

The building for West Hill was manufactured at McAvoy’s production centre in Northern Ireland. This significantly reduced disruption to teaching and ensured the new facilities were ready for occupation on time and after less than eight months on site.

An offsite solution was also developed to build a teacher training centre on the upper floor, as West Hill is also a teaching school and national support school.

Both of the existing buildings at West Hill remained in use throughout McAvoy’s construction of the new facilities. The offsite approach avoided any interruptions to teaching, despite the site constraints. 28 steel-framed modules were installed in just four days, and McAvoy restricted working times to maintain access and accommodate the children’s arrival and departure from school.

Using digital construction techniques to address site complexities

The West Hill project featured extensive use of digital construction technology to help address the complexities of the site. An offsite solution had to be engineered to accommodate a significant height difference of 870mm between the main school and the existing modular teaching block. Gradient differences were incorporated within corridors using a specially-engineered double floor beam design, which also maximised offsite construction.

Challenging ground conditions required complex piled foundations and a supporting steel frame. Here, 3D models displayed on tablets on site were invaluable to better inform the groundworks and module installation phases.

Digital construction also facilitated decision-making with stakeholders, with the use of 3D models and virtual reality, rather than traditional 2D line drawings. The school was able to see each room and experience the space. It allowed teaching staff to assess how the training centre could work located as a second storey to the new classroom block, rather than the freestanding building originally envisaged.

In recognition of its application of digital construction technology for the project, McAvoy won the RICS BIM4SME Award for Best Virtual Reality BIM.

Facilities designed for children with special education needs

As West Hill is a school for children with SEN, and located near the M25 motorway network and under a flight path, the building specification demanded outstanding acoustics. McAvoy developed a twin modular wall system and specially-designed offsite roof solution to achieve the enhanced acoustics. The building was also required to be mechanically ventilated, with equipment accommodating the noise sensitivities of the children.

Other design features to address the needs of learning and additional needs included:

 - Wider corridors to help children with mobility or balance issues

 - Hygiene rooms equipped with a hoist to assist children in wheelchairs

 - Provision for hoists in two classrooms and for further hoists to be installed in other areas around the new building

 - Ease of access between the new building and the existing facilities, and to the external play areas

The facilities accommodate a food technology classroom, an open-plan library, group rooms, and additional classrooms with direct access to the outdoors.

The building has created a covered and controlled link between the main building and the existing teaching block, and a new courtyard provides a secure play area where a sensory garden will be developed.

Commenting on the project, Judy Nettleton, Head Teacher at West Hill School, said: “The offsite solution generated massive time savings which were invaluable from an educational perspective. The McAvoy team had outstanding communications throughout, and their work was well planned and highly respectful of the challenges we were facing, both as a special needs school and in the transition from secondary to primary education.”

David Clark is Head of Manufacturing and Innovation at the McAvoy Group



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