Space for the future

Adrian Witty of Portable Offices Limited looks at the renaissance in pre-fabricated buildings as a recession-proof solution for education expansion needs and dispels some outdated ‘cabin myths’.

Despite the gloomy trading conditions and cut-backs, pre-schools and nurseries are still enjoying some benefits which include the Government’s move to extend free part-time places to 40% of two year olds by 2014.

In the UK, the Government funded part of the pre-school learning programme entitles each child to 12.5 hours of free learning each week at the ages of three and four.  Over this age the entitlement rises to 15 hours per week. These places are available at all types of day nurseries, nursery classes in primary schools, accredited child minders and Sure Start children’s centres and this has seen a continued albeit slower, growth in early years education.

In the past, many nursery and pre-school start-ups benefited from funding help from local authorities to help with initial costs. Sadly, this has declined considerably over the past few years as a result of budget cuts. However, determined not to let this climate of austerity beat them, an increasing number of schools are funding their own projects with privately funded investment and are shopping around.

Flexible solution

Portable accommodation is one solution which offers a flexible and cost effective alternative to traditional building methods, which can sometimes be expensive and disruptive. It has come a long way from the outdated pre-fab approach and can now even mirror a traditional brick-built or cedar clad façade with an enduring longevity and a high degree of appeal.

Cedar cladding is proving a particularly attractive option to schools looking for an aesthetically pleasing contemporary frontage which is still low maintenance as it doesn’t require any treatment or preservative. Planning applications featuring this option appear to be preferred, perhaps denoting an environmental twist to local authorities.

Super eco credentials make portable buildings increasingly attractive in the current environmentally conscious culture. Pre-loved portable buildings can make an enormous difference to small business users enabling them to expand their premises with less outlay than they expect. In fact, savings of around 40-50% can be achieved on these units without any compromise on reliability and with a full warranty on a hire or purchase basis.

We develop and construct all types of structures from the everyday extension to the more revolutionary facility. But one thing that all of the accommodation has in common is that it fulfils a specific need, whether that is for more teaching accommodation, changing rooms or staff facilities.

Low maintenance

Government strategy to do away with staff rooms or ‘staff only’ areas has met with considerable resistance from teaching staff, again leading them to fund their own projects to cater for these areas that they deem as a vital resource. Over the past 12 months, the number of education based solutions has increased and the need is growing as more schools look at ways of making their capital expenditure and budgets go further.

The low maintenance element of portable accommodation is another reason it is so attractive in today’s climate where the building’s integrity and longevity is of vital importance. In addition, portable accommodation or modular buildings offer a turn-key solution to new build needs with fast turnarounds of just six to eight weeks in many cases.

Many nurseries are established on the site of existing primary schools which can provide easy access for new pupils. However, your own site can provide greater profit margin for self-run nurseries. This doesn’t have to result in heavy building costs or design compromises. Securing an appropriate building plot can be the first step to a purpose built state-of-the-art nursery school.

Cost effective

When Joanne Mullin established The Kidzone After School Club her over-riding concern was a cost effective, fast-track construction.  She went down the route of a modular building which was established as a stand-alone nursery school provided by us.

Joanne was one of the lucky ones to secure a capital grant from the local authority who recognised the vital role that the club would provide for those children in need of a nurturing environment to visit before and after school and in the holidays.

Joanne commented: “Initially, some of the parents expressed some reservations about the prospect of portable accommodation, no doubt imagining a scruffy, damp cabin.  The reality is miles away from this outdated perception and instead, the building is quite state-of-the-art and provides a clean, warm bright environment which encourages the children’s creativity.”

In the case of Heighington Nursery in Lincolnshire, Sarah Turfrey joined the small pre-school with just eight children that operated from the Jubilee Hall 10 years ago. Now the pre-school has 47 children aged between two and four years of age but just 18 months ago, the chairman of the Parish Council announced that the pre-school had outgrown the hall and new accommodation needed to be found.

Sarah said: “Portable Offices was able to supply us with a refurbished unit which would be situated on the land of the village school. They were also able to help with the architect and planning support. We did a lot of fundraising and the result is a beautifully refurbished, immaculate, light, bright and warm building. It also has baby toilets and small hand basins with a new fitted kitchen and new lighting, and is decorated throughout with new flooring and a cosy corner where a sofa now sits.  We are all truly delighted with the finished building.”

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