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Back to school: managing two education builds during a pandemic

James Wood of Morgan Sindall Construction is managing two secondary school builds in Bedfordshire

Vandyke Upper School, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire

I am overseeing the delivery of two major education projects worth a combined value of £16.7m in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, which will see an additional 480 new school places created to serve the growing population.

Morgan Sindall Construction’s Northern Home Counties team has been appointed to expand and refurbish Vandyke Upper School and Gilbert Inglefield Academy, which sit along the same road. These projects build on our established relationship of delivering successful projects for Central Bedfordshire Council.

We started work on site back in January to remodel and expand the two buildings to create an additional 240 places at each school. Vandyke Upper School was handed over in time for the start of the academic year in September, and Gilbert Inglefield Academy is on track to complete in December. 

Both projects were procured through the Southern Construction Framework (SCF), a collaboration between Devon and Hampshire County Councils, which offers public sector organisations support with construction procurement. 

The framework has enabled us to create a very open and collaborative process with the client from the outset. SCF promotes regular gatherings around the table. These are an opportunity to raise items that have been successful and learnings that can be built upon.

Teamwork has been paramount to the success of both projects and we’ve been fortunate to build excellent relationships with the head teachers and senior leadership teams, as well as AMR Consult, the project management partner for the two schemes. 

At Vandyke Upper School, the £10.2m scheme involved the construction of a modular three-storey block of 12 science labs, 10 maths classrooms and a sixth form centre. The current science labs have become new teaching rooms, while the existing sixth form area is a new cafe and social space for students.

Our team used offsite manufacturing to construct the new build with our supply chain partner Eco Modular, which is based in Hull. In total, 94 prefabricated steel frame modules were delivered to the site in two phases and bolted into place by a 200kg crane. 

Gilbert Inglefield Academy

Across the road, the £6.5m project at Gilbert Inglefield Academy includes a new teaching building, providing 10 classrooms, a three-court sports hall and two IT labs, as well as remodelling the existing building to provide a kitchen and dining area. In addition, the project will introduce new special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) therapy spaces and an external multi-use games area (MUGA) . 

Both projects have been challenging but highly rewarding – particularly working through the covid-19 pandemic. Safety was paramount, and we adopted a proactive approach by implementing a range of comprehensive safety measures to ensure work was able to continue throughout lockdown in adherence with government guidelines. 

The support of our supply chain partners – in particular, our relationship with partners such as Eco Modular and furniture manufacturer Papworth Furniture – has been particularly important in allowing us to work efficiently and on schedule. 

Working closely with our partners, we introduced detailed phasing plans to relocate students into their new classrooms, and site deliveries were planned to ensure minimum disruption to students and the community. 

In what has been an incredibly challenging time, I’m very proud to be leading the team delivering this transformational investment.

James Wood is project manager at Morgan Sindall Construction

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