Technical

Scotland’s largest sustainable school build

Robertson’s Finlay Black led the construction of Merkinch Primary School and Family Centre
The school is Scotland’s largest to be built with a CLT frame. Image: John Paul Photography
The school is Scotland’s largest to be built with a CLT frame. Image: John Paul Photography

Robertson – one of the largest family-owned construction, infrastructure and support services businesses in the UK – has delivered the new £16.7m Merkinch Primary School in Inverness.

It is the first school in the Highlands, and largest school in Scotland, to be built using a cross-laminated timber frame (CLT), which is more sustainable than traditional construction methods.

Procured through Scape Scotland for The Highland Council, the project is being delivered in two phases. In phase one, the new-build school has been created adjacent to the existing primary school and includes 14 new classrooms, ancillary teaching area, three-room nursery, nurture rooms, a four-court games hall and an external multi-use games area.

“For me, the success of any construction project rests not only with quality, cost and on-time delivery, but how well the building performs and the impact on its occupants”

Finlay Black, Robertson

All construction works were carried out while the school remained operational – with modular accommodation, situated on the former playing fields, providing additional classrooms.

The school’s design was changed from a steel frame with precast concrete/lightweight steel infill panels to a hybrid glulam and CLT frame after consultation with the council.

Black says: “We reduced the project’s whole-life carbon by 60% – compared with the original design. This resulted in lighter foundations (supporting reduced embodied carbon), an improved project programme, better thermal performance, and a superior
internal environment.”

The project generated just 437kgCO2e/m2 of embodied carbon over its life cycle, exceeding the target metrics for non-domestic buildings set by the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide for 2030.

Sustainable materials in the school interior. Image: John Paul Photography
Sustainable materials in the school interior. Image: John Paul Photography

“The site also achieved an outstanding target of zero waste to landfill through donating excess materials to local startup companies and partnering with Northern Recycling Solutions so waste materials that could not be recycled were converted into energy through thermal and biological means, or used in landscaping,” he explains.

Project team

Location: Inverness, Scotland
Project manager: Finlay Black, Robertson
Client: The Highland Council
Value: £16.7m
Programme: 86-week

Now in phase two, the former school building, a Category B listed Victorian building built in 1876, is currently being refurbished to provide a new dining hall and family centre for the wider Merkinch community. A covered walkway links the two buildings.

“There has been a culture of collaboration and transparency from the beginning of this project with the excellent relationships formed carrying over into phase two.

“Phase two is due to complete in the coming months, with the pupils already enjoying their new modern school, ” says Black. “For me, the success of any construction project rests not only with quality, cost and on-time delivery, but how well the building performs and the impact on its occupants.”

He adds: “A school environment should always improve the quality of life for its occupants and by taking pride in our individual and collective inputs along with delivering high quality work, we have produced a successful delivery.

“This project hasn’t been without its challenges, working in a live education environment and throughout the pandemic with covid-19 Safe Operating Procedures in place, but seeing the delight on pupils’ faces when they entered the new facility and when we gifted each pupil a new school t-shirt to mark completion makes it all worthwhile.”

Finlay Black is operations manager at Robertson.

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