With an explosion in enrolments projected for coming decades and the demand for school facilities growing year-on-year, RPS consultants say the traditional formula for education development just won’t make the grade.
Urban land in our capital cities is both expensive and in painfully short supply, so it makes sense that inner urban schools are ‘going vertical’ with built form. There’s little choice. It’s a logical strategy for addressing exponential demand.
But what of the schools planned for cities that are still taking shape? What about education in the masterplanned communities of sub- and peri-urban Australia? What lessons can greenfield schools learn from their city counterparts?
Lower land expense and constraint might be an opportunity to recreate the Aussie school yards of old, but RPS believes that ‘greenfield schools’ are an opportunity to rewrite the rulebook on education facility design while laying the foundation for more efficient, integrated land use in the communities of our future.
Rule 1: space quality over space quantity
In the inner city, schools are having to cope with increased student numbers that need to be accommodated within limited land.
Demountable classrooms have become a feature of many Australian schools across the country and our consultants in Sydney and Melbourne are currently working with education providers to remove the temporary space solutions that are taking up valuable playground space.
A key strategy is encouraging education providers to embrace denser formats, while capitalising on the opportunities that now exist to fast-track school improvement projects through newly-introduced planning legislation and guidelines, such as NSW’s Environmental Planning Policy (Educational Establishments and Child Care Facilities (SEPP), and associated Education Facilities Standards and Guidelines (EFSG).
'In the same way that we are starting to see residential typologies change in our capital cities in response to population increase, the same will be true of our education facilities into the future,' says RPS Principal Planner from Sydney, Claire Muir.
'Schools are having to accommodate more students in less land, but there’s also a recognition that good school design must allow space for play. The education sector is responding by taking buildings vertical.'
In the last budget, the NSW Government announced that it will spend $4.2 billion over the forward estimates on school development programs, with the aim to create 32,000 more student places and 1,500 new classrooms. An extra $1.6 billion will be allocated over the next four years to bring the total to $4.2 billion spent on work across 33 schools.
RPS planners are already working on upgrades and enhancements at a number of Sydney schools, including brand new facilities at Russell Lea and Ryde, and new buildings at Willoughby Public School and Glenfield.
“All of these projects incorporate the principles for vertical schools in order to maximise the play space that is available for children. A key ingredient of the EFSG is the 10sqm of play space per child ratio,' Claire explains.
While lack of space might not be such a problem for newer communities where establishing a population base and attracting residents is still the name of the game, it’s only a matter of time before the scales of demand are tipped says RPS Planner and General Manager for operations on the Sunshine Coast, Brad Williams.
'Embracing denser building forms from the beginning will ultimately ensure more students can be accommodated, while allowing developers to invest in inclusions that support good learning outcomes.
'In the same way that people are increasingly prepared to forgo square metres (lot size) in favour of better quality product that’s well-located, attitudes towards education facilities are heading in the same direction.
'Greenfield schools are a perfect opportunity to prioritise quality, while future-proofing facilities for the increased quantity of students we are currently seeing in the city. Smart planning and future-thinking planning guidelines can help make sure schools in newer growth areas are ready,' Brad explains.
Rule 2: shared space = good maths
This year the average primary school will be used for approximately eight hours per day, 205 days throughout the year. The rest of the time – around 44% of 2018 in fact – much of this educational land will stand idle and under-utilised.
Recognising the value that can be unlocked through the sharing of assets, developers are planning school facilities that aren’t just utilised by school-aged students between the hours of 8 and 4, but by a range of sporting, social and community groups when kids are not in class.
In Melbourne, our project managers are overseeing the development of a number of schools that are building capacity (and saving money) by opening up their grounds for use by the community.
'In Victoria, around 50-60% of the school projects being delivered are being constructed in new estates or regional locations, so there’s a big push for these developments to meet local need and serve as community infrastructure hubs,' explains General Manager for Project Management in Melbourne, Elicia Wallace.
'We are seeing a big push for the local council to be involved in projects, and most Victorian school developments now have a local member sitting in the project control group (PCG) and planning committee meetings during the design phase.'
Sporting and performance art facilities are a big component of most school developments, with many designs now including competition standard sporting facilities. The benefit is that the local council can then lease the facilities from the school, opening them up for utilisation by more people, more often.
Carlton Primary School has taken it a step further, with the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA), City of Melbourne and Melbourne University collaborating to build community capacity through smart facility design.
The school has ample floor space - it’s a three-storey building of which the school only requires two – so the intent of the completed project is that the school will be based over two levels with the remaining floor to house an Early Learning Centre and a local community hub.
'The City of Melbourne will run both facilities and lease the space from the Department of Education. That way the school will be able to cater for children from 6 months all the way through to 12 years,' Elicia explains.
The proposed relocation of Hurlstone Agricultural High School (Hawkesbury) in Sydney to a new, state-of-the-art campus is another example of facilities sharing, and RPS consultants in Sydney have been working with the Department of Education and Communities (DEC) to deliver the new school’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which was recently released for public comment.
'We’re seeing an exciting trend towards school designs that are space-efficient, connected, future-thinking and responsive to community needs and aspirations,' says Claire Muir.
'The proposal for Hurlstone Agricultural High School (Hawkesbury) ticks all of these boxes. The design embraces higher-density buildings that will allow more students to be accommodated, while connection is achieved by collocating the school with the University of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury campus.'
Future students will enjoy unprecedented opportunities for exposure to the work, culture and community of UWS, facilitating an easier transition of high school kids into tertiary education and providing a feeder network of elite students into the university’s world-renowned agricultural science research programs and courses.
Rule 3: think outside the school gate
In the same way that school facilities can be shared with the community, opportunity abounds for the opposite as well.
In the future, our workplaces are going to be far more distributed and decentralised than they are now, and greenfield communities represent a golden opportunity to create education spaces and programs to match.
'What’s to stop highly specialised, vocationally-directed education spaces being integrated within other community facilities?' says Brad Williams.
'Shopping centres could serve as immersive retail education hubs. Hospitals and aged care communities could become innovation centres for best-practice health care. The public library can also be the school library…It’s all about thinking beyond the traditional concept of what a school is, and where learning should occur.'
The final rule? Think of education as an investment in community
Schools are a pivotal component of the health and prosperity of any city or town. This is particularly the case for new communities.
People want to live in communities that have good schools. The students who attend them will develop the skills needed to grow the local economy.
Plan and build great ‘greenfield schools’ now, reap the economic and social rewards later.
Enquiries: Lauren Bonser, RPS Communications Advisor (07) 3237 8858.
12 April 2018