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Building design rethink needed to achieve top marks in UK education

New market research has revealed more support is needed to design and construct ‘healthy’ buildings in the UK education sector.

Conducted by REHAU, the research analyses the insights of M&E professionals and architects working across the nation’s schools and universities. It uncovers areas where small adjustments in building design can not only support academic attainment but also equip estates with services fit for future needs, such as low-carbon heating and cooling.

Despite studies showing a clear connection between physical spaces and student performance, the results suggest that market realities continue to hinder best practice. Over 75% of respondents, for example, said that wellbeing is often ‘value-engineered’ out of an original design during later stages of development. This contrasts with the 67% who agreed that leaving a high-quality building for future generations was a top priority.

Steve Richmond, Head of Marketing and Technical – Building Solutions at REHAU, explains: “Public sector projects like schools have the opportunity to lead the way in designing low-energy buildings which provide high levels of comfort for occupants. Many school buildings are in need of investment so it’s important new and refurbished ones are completed to a high standard. Among other things, this will mean installing pipework that’s better matched to low-temperature heating from ground and air source heat pumps. A strategy that has been outlined by both climate change bodies and the UK government.”

The report comes at an opportune moment, with the latest government figures showing extensive construction programmes will be needed in the coming years. Some 420,000 extra places are currently needed in state schools, yet National Audit Office figures show that the majority of today’s building stock was built before 1976.

However, as Steve is keen to point out, healthy design challenges also extend to higher education, which arguably faces even higher expectations, especially from those who are paying a premium to study: “It’s known facilities play a central role in undergraduates’ choice of university and is even given as a category on reputable guides. International students will pay closer attention to this as they are often paying far more than their UK classmates. As such, it’s now a necessity for estates managers to provide the best environments for learning if they want to fill course places.”

With the publication of this guide, Steve hopes that UK education will be able to move towards a healthier, more productive approach while still managing budget constraints: “As a supplier, it’s our responsibility to understand contractors’ challenges and how they can be overcome. This research represents part of REHAU’s ongoing mission to raise the standard of building services across the UK through a range of practical and effective products.”

26 October 2021

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