Clear communication has been critical in keeping a Derbyshire schools project on track despite a tight programme and budget.

BAM Construction has delivered a new building for Lees Brook Community School for £12 million and within 20 months.

“The school had a project worth £23m cancelled when the Building Schools for the Future programme was cut short. says BAM project manager Adrian Moss. We had to understand their expectations and manage these while delivering a scheme with almost half the budget.”
Time is money, and when BAM started on site at the beginning of the 2013 summer holidays, it knew it had to complete the new building in time to allow the pupils to move across after October half term 2014.

Adrian joined the project during its first week on site, and credits work done by Construction manager Jon Kiteley and regional construction director David Ellis for helping him slot in smoothly.

“A great deal of planning work was done by Jon and David,” he says. “They worked with the Education Funding Agency and the school to set out the best programme possible.”

The first six weeks of the project - while the school was empty – were used to install services through the site, past the existing school, to where the new build would take place. A haul road was also put in place to keep deliveries away from the existing school, and certain structures were demolished to build up a safe gap between the construction activities and the live parts of the site.

“We then made the front of the site good again, so when the pupils came back in September, their school was ready to use and we could concentrate on our area,” says Adrian.

With a 5m change in level across the site, a cut and fill exercise took place, with earth taken from the top end and used to build up the lower end.

“Throughout the project, we kept as much material on the site as possible,” says Adrian. “This has environmental and financial benefits as well as reducing the impact of lorries on our residential neighbours.”

After four weeks of groundworks, foundations work began, with piles used on the filled area and a concrete pad put in place for the cut zone.

Work on the new building’s steel frame began in October 2013, with precast concrete planks being installed as soon as possible. This was a busy period for the project and required liaison with a range of parties.

“Our site borders onto a residential area, so we did a lot of work to ensure people were informed about what we were doing,” Adrian says. “We wrote newsletters, we have a Facebook page and we did three face-to-face meetings. There has been a high level of interest and the project has gone down well overall. In fact, we’ve had thank you letters from residents.”

Strong communication with the school, which remained live during the project, and the various subcontractors on the site, was also vital.

Derbyshire firms Bison and MJ Robinson carried out the concrete plank and steel works respectively.

“If we had all the time in the world, we would have had the steel frame finished before we started on the planks, but that would add four weeks on to the programme,” adds Adrian. “That’s four weeks of cost we could not afford.”

So the two firms worked on site at the same time, requiring them to form a close working relationship. This was just one benefit of using local suppliers. “They know each other from other jobs and work well together.”

BAM itself has offices in Derby, and recently completely the award winning Council House for Derby City Council. The overall project for Lees Brook however had something of a community feel.

“We showed about 1,400 pupils around the site in total,” says Adrian. “Many of them commented that their dad had worked on it or they had another link. This created a really good working atmosphere.”

Once the frame was up, the roof went on and then the steel structural framing system walls. Mechanical and electrical installation was sped up dramatically by the preparation work carried out at the start of the project and the use of building information modelling in design.

“BAM Design worked on this project and the use of BIM meant 95% of the holes we needed for M&E were in place when materials were brought to site,” he adds. “We did not need to worry about power and water supply as we had brought these through the site at the start.”

A blue engineering brick used in the cladding for aesthetic and durability reasons created a challenge due to its sensitivity to weather at construction stage. “We started early enough that we had time built in to allow for the inevitable stoppages.”

The main school building was completed in time to use the October half term for a rapid switch over of IT and other equipment as planned. Demolition then began of the remaining areas of the old school, including a large asbestos strip, to allow sports facilities to be created in their place.
With a keen eye on cost and the environment, BAM kept waste production on the project to a minimum, with less than 50m3 created for every £1m of construction spend on the new build.

As well as re-using earth and even bricks from the site, and using pre-fabricated concrete planks, BAM ensured suppliers took back used items such as delivery pallets and insulation offcuts. The team estimates that it saved about 10 to 15 large skips’ worth of waste this way.

The pupils are now in their new school and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The school is delighted, the residents are happy and we got 44 out of 50 in an assessment by the Considerate Constructors Scheme,” says Adrian. “It is all down to BAM’s ability to communicate clearly with all relevant parties at all stages of a complex project.”