State-of-the-art school

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Key stakeholder management and a team commitment to collaborative working delivered New Zealand’s first senior secondary school – Albany Senior High School.

A bush-clad 4-hectare site on Albany Highway with an ecologically important stream running through it now boasts New Zealand’s first senior secondary school. The site contains a state-of-the-art 5-storey facility along with a restored 1897 school building.

The new 20,000 m2 building comprises two levels of car parking and three levels of learning communities that can cater for up to 1,300 students (years 11–13). There are specialist areas for art, science, hard tech, media, dance and music faculties, plus a separate gymnasium complex with a sports field and hard courts. The $60 million facility took 13 months to complete.

This ambitious project aimed to produce a school where students and staff are fully integrated and where flexible and open learning spaces enable an innovative learning environment.

Focusing on learning outcomes

Arrow International won them the contract based on their understanding of Ministry of Education requirements, their experience and expertise with education projects and strong working relationship with architects Jasmax.

The Ministry of Education played a key role in managing expectations and facilitating meetings. The main focus was on learning outcomes for the community rather than the construction of a new school. By first agreeing the teaching methodology they wanted, the trustees could then focus Jasmax on creating the right design and environment to meet the brief.

Working with the board of trustees

A crucial aspect was to develop the senior high school concept for year 11, 12 and 13 students. To understand what was achievable, trustees and project team members visited schools in Australia. Trustees were encouraged to think about expected learning outcomes and innovative teaching methodology before considering the design of the building.

Once the teaching and learning strategy had been agreed, the project team ran workshops with the board of trustees and the Ministry of Education to discuss concepts for the learning spaces.

Delivering a proactive learning environment

To encourage teaching and learning, the preferred concept was an open-plan space accompanied by laboratory spaces where students can do practical work related to their study. These laboratory spaces are distributed throughout the school to encourage interaction between students as they move between learning sessions. There are also several private spaces for special-needs students and one-on-one and small-group teaching.

One of the key successes has been the holistic approach and shared vision for the entire school. This included encouraging inter-departmental discussion and interaction to benefit teaching outcomes.

Space-constrained environmentally sensitive site

The Ministry of Education had previously undertaken a feasibility study for the planned 4-hectare site. However, for a school of this scale, the site was extremely limited. The design constraints became even more onerous when natural bush and an ecologically important stream left only 3 hectares of usable space.

The environmentally sensitive nature of the area and its local wildlife meant the project team faced delays in getting the site designation. Temporary accommodation enabled them to test different design concepts, but the designation conditions compromised the original design, and the structure had to be taken closer to the road and over the bus bays.

The new design was more complex and varied in height. However, commitment to delivering the same teaching and learning space as originally planned was maintained, and the resultant design was even better.

Project Albany Senior High School
Client Ministry of Education
Architect Jasmax (Hamish Boyd, Roy Blok)
Client representative White Associates (Graham White)
Contractor Arrow International (Craig Brosnan)
Region Auckland
Sector Education/public building
Final contract value $60 million
Tender Design and build
Construction timescale January 2009–April 2010
Form of contract NZS 3915

Handling shorter timescales

The delay in obtaining consents resulted in the building period being reduced to 13 months. Before starting on site, the project team conducted preplanning workshops to micro-manage the construction programme and phase the relevant consents and packages.

A solution to meet the revised build timetable included changing the originally planned concrete frame to a steel frame. A prefabricated glazed and solid cladding system was also used, which was crucial in delivering the project on time. Although the off-site manufactured system cost more, it enabled the school building to be ready for the new school year.

Commitment to team ethic

Crucial to the success of the project was everyone’s commitment to the team ethic and collaborative working principles. Regular meetings created an open and honest environment that enabled the team to learn what was important to the community and the board of trustees. Excellent working relationships were developed that focused on solutions, innovation and risk-sharing.

Putting learning outcomes before design

By understanding the learning outcomes before considering design, the team has created a facility that is fit for purpose. This has been confirmed through the wide interest in the school since its completion.

Barbara Cavanagh, Foundation Principal of Albany Senior High, says that working with the Arrow team has been a huge success. ‘The collaborative approach of partnership and consultation implemented by Arrow enabled all the stakeholders to be involved and was extremely effective. The sheer speed at which the project has been completed has left a lasting impression on me and my staff.’

Innovation through collaboration

Despite spatial challenges and reduced timescales, the team’s commitment to collaborative working principles resulted in innovation throughout the project. The time spent before the construction phase enabled them to fully understand the Ministry of Education and board of trustees requirements. The team’s overall approach has enabled them to deliver a school that will provide a high-quality learning environment for future generations.

Craig Brosnan, the Albany Senior High School project director for Arrow International has the final word: ‘In this fast-moving environment, it’s often difficult to keep your perspective on what is being achieved on a daily basis. It’s not until the end of the project, when there is time to step back and reflect, that you fully understand the enormity of your teams’ efforts. The Albany Senior High School project has been challenging and, ultimately, extremely rewarding.’

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