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June 2009 – Education ambition demands benefits of steel

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The search for those elusive green shoots of recovery sometimes seems to be taking on near manic proportions, with City commentators falling over themselves to be the first with whatever good news they think they see bouncing over the horizon. In the real world things are still tough and there still seems a long way to go before green shoots blossom into full economic recovery.

Bright spots remain however and clients and designers are fortunately still finding good reasons to favour steel as the framing solution of first choice in the rare areas of growth. Steel has been strongly favoured in the education sector, where head teachers and other senior managers value the cost and sustainability advantages, but also speedy construction and the certainty of construction programmes that minimise the risk of education having to take place surrounded by construction workers rushing to complete overrun projects.

A new report by AMA Research highlights the prospects in this sector, whose importance might come as a surprise to some. Education has grown at a surprisingly swift rate in recent years that shows no immediate signs of slowing down. Capital spending on school buildings alone has risen from under £700M a year about ten years ago to £6,700M in 2008-09, and will rise to over £8,000M in 2010-11. Over £900M is being brought forward to help construction through the recession so schools capital spending in the current financial year will be just under £8,000M.

Not all the work has already been cordoned off under giant framework agreements either and new entrants are encouraged. Under the £45,000M Building Schools for the Future programme, which runs until 2020, a tender notice has just been issued for a new £4,000M framework that will give up to 12 contractors and their supply chains a chance to win academies work.

The AMA Research report rightly highlights that there are risks to some of these plans, as always with any project whether private or public sector. But education is going to be a key driver for the construction market over the coming years. To make the targets of renewing 3,500 schools by 2023 means 250 schools to be completed each year on average from 2011, which means more than doubling the current output. The ambitious targets clearly will only be met by taking advantage of the speed, cost, flexibility and other advantages of steel construction.

Nick Barrett
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