Milton Keynes’ first fossil fuel-free ‘all-through’ school
Glebe Farm School is a fossil fuel-free, new-build all-through school in the parish of Wavendon in the south-east of Milton Keynes.
It welcomed its first pupils in September 2022. As an all-through school, children can enter at reception and stay all the way through to Year 11. The new school has created places for up to 1,530 pupils, plus provision for a 39-place full-time equivalent (FTE) nursery.
Currie & Brown has worked with Milton Keynes City Council for over 30 years. As part of our framework agreement with the council, we were appointed in 2020 to deliver project management, cost management, NEC supervisor and M&E clerk of works services on the design and construction of this £32.4 million award-winning school development.
High-quality facilities that will benefit the local community
The ambition is for Glebe Farm School to become the beating heart of a new and developing community, serving children and young people from the immediate residential area and nearby towns and villages.
This major new school is essential for the future of this fast-growing area of the city, providing the local community with access to high-quality facilities.
The local community can enjoy its sports facilities, including indoor courts and outdoor pitches which can be accessed via a separate community entrance. Glebe Farm School will become a valuable space for community events.
Inspiring Futures Through Learning (IFtL) was appointed by the council early in the design process as the operating education trust. Their early input on the project provided considerable insight and further effectiveness of the design process. This resulted in developing the scheme so that the sports provision could be separated, enabling the operating trust to establish a high-quality community sports offering which helps to fund the operation of the school.
One of the greenest schools in the region
Milton Keynes City Council is well on track to be carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon negative by 2050. Over the past eight years, the council has opened six new schools and expanded 24 others. In each case, planners, architects and builders have made a positive impact on the environment by using clever designs and new, greener technologies.
Billed as Milton Keynes’ first fossil fuel-free new build school, Glebe Farm School is ‘gas free’. Air source heat pumps (ASHP) which absorb heat from the outside air provide all the energy needed for air and hot water. All lighting comes from ultra-efficient LEDs, while hundreds of solar panels generate power for the building. Energy-saving technology such as zero carbon site hoarding and an onsite solar powered generator were employed during the construction, minimising any impacts on the local environment.
One of the most significant eco-friendly design changes came with the decision to remove the school from the gas grid, with all heating provided by renewable energy via roof mounted ASHPs.
This decision has an interesting knock-on effect for a school, as typically every science lab requires gas-powered Bunsen burners. To solve this issue, electric Bunsen burners were installed, so no part of the building would require a gas connection. This showcases how the project is ahead of the curve, as gas Bunsen burners are still routinely specified for new schools despite the construction industry veering away from this fossil fuel.
It is estimated that 40 tons of CO2 are saved each operational year from eliminating gas from the building.
Currie & Brown’s involvement in achieving sustainability priorities
At an early stage in the design process, Currie & Brown’s sustainability team facilitated a workshop with the entire project team. This was to identify opportunities to define and meet the council’s high sustainability aspirations, including helping define what zero carbon would mean for the new school.
The team prepared a broad plan for ensuring that all sustainability priorities were addressed during the design development process.
Currie & Brown was also able to secure a donation of 840 trees from the Woodland Trust, helping to offset carbon emissions.
Challenges the project team faced and overcame
Challenges the project faced were unprecedented. This included Covid-19, Brexit, and the Ukraine war. The project commenced the day after the start of the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown. The project team only met in person for the first time on site a year and a half later when the steelwork was signed.
The project team had to develop diverse ways of working virtually – Microsoft Teams came into its own! More than usual review meetings were scheduled as drawing reviews and consultations could not be held in person. Although, this didn’t stop the project team from coming up with new, innovative ways to aid team building – everyone enjoyed the virtual cheese and wine tasting evening!
At the time of construction, market volatility triggered disproportionate cost increases and lead times for selected materials, which became an issue following contract agreement. While this was not specifically a client risk, it had the potential to influence the overall project in terms of delays to completion.
We constantly reviewed potential impacts and mitigation measures, working within the contractor to facilitate bulk material orders to maintain progress and reconfigure works to provide additional storage areas. We instructed the contractor to amend the activity schedule to reflect this, so their cashflow could be maintained. With clear instructions, prompt discussion and mitigation of early warnings flagged by the contractor, we were able to maintain progress – even reaching a final account agreement prior to completion on site.
Successfully delivering a major project on time and to budget
The key to successful project delivery was fostering a clear, collaborative and structured delivery plan, maintaining open and honest communication.
The NEC requirement on the parties to act in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation was at the heart of the project’s success. A key focus of the works and NEC contract application was forming and maintaining a truly collaborative team with all stakeholders.
The delivery of Glebe Farm School is a testament to an exemplary collaborative relationship and risk management within a project team, delivering the project on time to budget.
Endorsement of the Currie & Brown team
“I am writing to express my sincere thanks for the work on our new school at Glebe Farm, during some really challenging times. You and your team have been so dedicated and committed to ensuring that the design programme has been met, despite the fact we launched the scheme the day after lockdown was announced! I know how hard you worked to ensure that, despite the pandemic, we remained on track and hit all key milestones. We are on programme because of this excellent work and commitment from the team and are really excited about delivering what I know will be an exceptional school building for the residents of Milton Keynes. Thank you to all involved – we really appreciate it.” Marie Denny, Group Head, Education, Learning and Inclusion, Milton Keynes City Council