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Stuart Hicks

Will winter raze the roof on school maintenance?

Stuart Hicks from Kemper System discusses the impact of a wetter, warmer climate on school roofs

Posted by Stephanie Broad | February 13, 2016 | Outdoors

It’s now five years since the Sebastian James Review of Education Capital highlighted a £22 billion backlog in school maintenance projects. Since then, local authority spending has been cut and capacity across both the primary and secondary sectors has come under increasing pressure, squeezing limited budgets still further.

Deferring routine maintenance of schools due to capital outlay concerns can prove short sighted as the fabric of the building continues to deteriorate. It’s an issue that is particularly serious when it comes to roofing because roof failure not only causes leaks that present inconvenience and health and safety risks to staff and students, but can also lead to consequential degradation of the fabric of the building and damage to its contents.

Recent weather conditions have served to exacerbate the problem over the past few months. While the government is calling recent unprecedented rainfall levels an ‘extreme weather event’, environmentalists are warning that we should expect a milder, wetter climate in the future. 

Much of the UK’s school building stock has flat roofs, many of which have seen better days, and an increased potential for standing water due to rainfall levels. There is an urgent need to carry out school roof refurbishments in many areas of the country. The challenge for schools is to manage the financial implications of this urgent maintenance issue and, too often, they opt for the cheapest quick fix rather than a robust long-term solution.

Overlay strategy

By far the fastest and least disruptive option for refurbishing school roofs is to clean and prepare the existing surface and carry out an overlay, with the new system laid over the top of the existing roof. This can be achieved with a variety of different roofing methods, including asphalt/bituminous systems, single ply membranes and liquid applied membranes.

Kemper at work at King's College, Wimbledon

It’s essential that the chosen system is selected to meet the long-term waterproofing needs of the building and is fully compatible with the existing substrate. Often, the cheapest to install option does not offer the best whole life cost proposition and may end up being more expensive over a 20-year period that involves four of five rounds of repairs!

Long-term thinking

There’s no easy answer to making school maintenance budgets go further but, as we face increasing uncertainty about what the climate will throw at us and how our school buildings will cope, it’s important to remember that a cheap quick fix may not be the most cost-effective long term solution.    

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