It was an interesting night at Process last week. Topic of the evening was the Building Education Revolution. Guests were various architects who shall remain nameless (though they wouldn't be hard to find). Reason for the namelessness is that the points of view expressed were extraordinarily candid, it was as if they had forgetten they were speaking to the general public.
The speakers included some architects who worked on the "planning" of a few schools. This consisted of being commissioned, visiting said schools immediately, and coming up with a masterplan for each within five days, which meant locating and allocating template designs. At that stage the templates were barely more than footprints. None of the templates seemed to be a good fit, and in fact they had some of them the wrong way round for the sun, not that they knew that at the time - it only meant they wouldn't conform to part J of the BCA. The general attitude of the schools was - well this template isn't really what we need, but it's better than nothing. The architects had expected further work with the same schools, but it turned out that they had to pass their work on to other architects for the followup.
One school has a library it wants to do up, but couldn't get the funding for that. So they'll get a new library off a template.
Some template architects also spoke. They'd been given briefed areas lists in early March and been told to come up with template designs, instantly. Then they were told by architects in government that the designs were too designed - that they should be less identifiable, possibly so that they couldn't be identified as BER buildings in the future. The briefs they worked to had been previously defined by bureaucrats, and were politically loaded. The architects didn't see much demand for the "language centres" requested, but school principals have taken them anyway, with an assumption that they would turn them into what was needed later on. Building Education Renovation is expected to follow the Building Education Revolution, but not for a while as we are currently eating up the next decade or so of education infrastructure funding.
One architect spoke about doing it the old way - his was a non-template design for an independent school. While the briefing and sketch design process was traditional, it was on speed. Try coming up with a $4M building in a week, from scratch. Still, the result was clever and commendable in the circumstances.
A project manager spoke glumly about the difficulties of the process. Architects were being asked to do too much too quickly, and therefore badly, and at some risk to their health. The result would not serve schools well, nor the profession. The BER is not apparently about education at all, it is about building, as quickly as possible. It doesn't matter if the product is an expensive mistake - as long as lots of people are employed to make paint and pavers - thus averting the country's financial collapse. The BER is even less about architects - we are just slowing down the cash injection with our design process.
Predicted for the next stage of the revolution: busy builders sending prices sky high; ridiculous administration costs substantially reducing the grants to schools; and big problems getting the buildings certified (I think they meant Part J). So far building tenders have been coming in at the right price, but how long can that last?
We were urged by one speaker to take this to the top - the design process has been misunderstood by government and they need to be enlightened. Apparently the institute is doing something on this front.
Then one architect said, though there were lots of problems, he was a 'happy hooker'. People dropped their glasses and scurried for the exit after that. The atmosphere had become rather strange.
All thanks to Process for assembling this event.
Regulations wreck Cleve Area School build plans 6/6 "A COUNTRY school in South Australia granted $2 million under the federal Government's primary school building program watched the size of its project halved in the space of three months, from a new building housing eight classrooms and common areas to four demountables joined by timber decking."
Vital details left in limbo 30/5 "There is surely a more useful debate for our politicians to be having about the extent to which the need for speed in stimulating the economy has compromised maximum benefits we could be getting from all that cash."
Schools miss out on lab upgrades 1/6 "A working group of parents, teachers and principals in conjunction with the NSW Government argue a more cost-effective way to spend the money is to refurbish existing laboratories rather than construct new buildings from scratch."
MPs urge 'no secrets' on schools 3/6 "Last week, principals accused the Government of siphoning federal funds earmarked for schools under the Rudd Government's $14 billion "Building the Education Revolution" program, which is designed to stimulate the economy... Other complaints have since emerged. Some schools say they are being forced to accept unsuitable building templates; building contractors say they are being asked to tender on projects hundreds of kilometres away; and several schools say they lack space for the new buildings they are allocated."
Schools slam state funding 'rip-off' 23/5 "On the valuations we've received, the State Government will make between $500,000 and $1.4 million on each of the 10 building templates. The entire amount of federal funding should be allocated to schools and not creamed off by Mr Brumby."