Firms switch to ‘free schools' initiative

16 July 2010

Consultants and architects are racing to re-organise their Building Schools for the Future teams so they can bid for the government’s “free schools” initiative, Building reported.

Several firms have formed free school units and met with parent groups in the wake of the government’s £50m pledge for the schools up to next March. About 20 projects are being planned.

One of the consultants is EC Harris, which has teamed up with a developer, architect and engineer and met with Rachel Wolf, head of New Schools Network, the government-funded body leading the programme.

Simon Lucas, head of education at EC Harris, said people were “beating a path” to Wolf’s door.

Davis Langdon has also set up a team comprising a private equity group, a contractor, an architect and an educationalist, and is preparing to meet Wolf.

Paul Zuccherelli, education boss at Davis Langdon, said: “Everyone is trying to position themselves. We think this could become bigger, which is why we’re putting the investment in.”

Wolf said: “We’ve been contacted by a range of architects and builders. We’re waiting for a decision by the department [of education] on how it will work.”

Among architects, Space Group is working on a project and Surface to Air has advertised in this week’s Times Educational Supplement for interested groups.

At the same time, Construction Enquirer reported that regional contractors are seeing a surge in tenders for urgent school repairs work in the wake of BSF being scrapped.

Surrey and Sussex are among the first councils to press on with alternative plans to tackle the maintenance backlog.

A local builder told the Enquirer: “We didn’t know what hit us, suddenly we had 15 tender requests for works at schools in our area. We’ve had to drop everything to get the bids in quickly.”

Michael Conlon, a director of Bamber Bridge-based Conlon Construction, said: “There are schools out there which have to have something done to them and if the budget is such that a new-build cannot be afforded, refurbishment is the next option.

“There are opportunities in any situation like this and we have to be prepared to take those opportunities when they arise.”

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