No time to rush our investment in school infrastructure

South Australia’s investment in school infrastructure is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, but a compressed schedule risks quality, value for money and long-term benefits, says the Australian Institute of Architects.

“The Marshall Government has committed $1.3 billion to capital projects to improve school facilities across the state. This program of works offers huge potential to boost our economy and enhance the learning outcomes of young South Australians for years to come – and this is why it is important we optimise the delivery of this program,” said Nicolette Di Lernia, Executive Director of the Institute in South Australia.

Government analysis has found around 10,000 places will be needed at 36 public high schools over the next four years to accommodate organic growth and year 7 students transitioning into high school from 2022.

“We are very concerned that the volume of work being released into the marketplace over a compressed time frame will not deliver the best outcomes for the community. It will result in an inflated tender market and contracts that build in a higher monetary allowance for risk. These costs will equate to less value being delivered to school sites,” Ms Di Lernia explained.

The Institute has identified a range of issues after detailed discussion with its members, Ms Di Lernia added.

“The scope of works defined in the brief significantly exceeds the available budget on most projects – and in some cases is several million dollars more than the budget. We are seeing program schedules cut from 16 weeks to 10 weeks – in some cases on $30 million projects – which influences the quality of the outcome that architects can deliver.”

The Institute also raised concerns about the Marshall Government’s $13 million investment in a fleet of flexible learning spaces that it says will be deployed across schools experiencing short term enrolment spikes.

“The proposed use of modular buildings appears to be counter to the initial objective – which was to remove modular or relocatable buildings from schools. The cost of modular construction is equal to, and in some cases, greater than on-site construction. In addition, some recent examples provide poor outcomes, including low ceilings, poor environmental performance and acoustic issues,” Ms Di Lernia explained.

“When done well, modular construction is an appropriate option which delivers quality outcomes. However, at this time we have insufficient information to fully understand what is being proposed.”

Ms Di Lernia said these examples point to a rushed program.

“The solution is simple: extend the capital works program beyond the next two years. This will enable schools to work with architects to develop well-resolved designs that support 21st-century learning.

“At the same time, an extended program will maximise a range of economic benefits. Contractors will be able to offer a greater number of trade apprenticeships, which will boost skills and create a strong resource for the future and provide a longer-term injection of investment in the state economy through local procurement.

“Extending the program will also ensure potential risks relating to functionality, construction quality, maintenance and flexibility of facilities are better managed.

“The Institute and its members will continue to work with the Department of Education and the Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure to achieve the best possible outcomes for each building project, and for all South Australians.

“We urge the SA Government to take time to fully realise the potential of this ambitious and exciting program of works, which can provide a significant legacy for future generations. 

“One of the policy platforms of the Liberal Party during the election campaign was its promise to look to long-term benefits, rather than short-term election cycles. Let’s do that.”

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