Building successful learning from the ground up

Issue: Volume 101, Number 9

Posted: 21 July 2022
Reference #: 1HAV66

Offsite manufactured buildings are constructed offsite and assembled quickly on school grounds. They’re a great answer for schools that don’t have enough teaching spaces for their students and who are looking for an efficient solution that reflects modern teaching practice.

Lorelle Dodds, teacher, is delighted with the new buildings.

Lorelle Dodds, teacher, is delighted with the new buildings.

"I like this room better. There is lots of space.” This is how Hamish, a student at Wairau Valley Special School (WVSS) describes the new OMB classrooms at the school.

OMB stands for offsite manufactured buildings, and these are becoming a popular delivery solution for schools and the Ministry of Education alike.

The teaching spaces are modern and hi-tech, are adaptable to different teaching pedagogies, offer minimal disruption to day-to-day school operations during the delivery process, and have lower ongoing maintenance costs to schools.

Because they are transportable, they offer the flexibility to react to roll growth or decline in a more efficient manner than was previously possible. The new classrooms are factory built to the Ministry’s high standards for permanent use but can also be used to address short-term needs such as providing decanting space during major building projects.

Many are being installed at schools around the East Coast of the North Island to replace entire schools or create new spaces for growth. Overall, from February 2016 to the end of May 2022, there have been 722 classrooms delivered to schools. A further 216 are scheduled for delivery over the next 12–18 months.

Speedy process

Natalie Todd, principal of WVSS says it is an incredibly collaborative process.

“We could talk about what the building would look like and what we would need for it to be effective for us. We could then take that to the teachers as well and show them what we were going to get. Because all the work had been done off site, there was minimal disruption. The best thing for me was that the timeframes were met.”

Timing was also crucial for Wayne Carter, deputy principal at Te Awamutu College. The school roll rose from 1,050 students in 2015 to 1,400 at the start of 2022. Wayne had been keeping a close eye on numbers and had predicted the increase in enrolments this year.

“That additional growth was going to put pressure on us in terms of our ability to be able to timetable and room everything within our school,” he says.

Finding a solution for the anticipated increase in numbers led Wayne to contact the Ministry to see what could be done. From there it was a speedy process that saw three new buildings ready for use a year later. The ease of completion was aided by the pre-planning that Wayne and the school had done.

The buildings have lots of room for activities.

The buildings have lots of room for activities.

Room to grow

The ability to respond quickly to the need for additional space is one of the main drivers of OMB projects. As with Te Awamutu College, Mangatawhiri School is also experiencing rapid growth.

Sharron Scouse, principal, explains the school has grown from 52 students to 200.

“In 2018 our school roll really exploded, and it was at a point we were using our school library as a classroom. So, we began the conversation with the Ministry around what was needed for our school.”

As with the other schools, Sharron was impressed with the level of collaboration and speed at which the buildings were able to be installed.

“The design team were very open to input from us in terms of colours and the staff were making choices about what they would like to see inside the classroom.

“I got the phone call to say the classrooms were arriving Thursday overnight and that we would leave school with piles in the ground and arrive the next day to see the classrooms. And that’s what happened. It was incredible,” Sharron says.

The speed at which the buildings can be installed is in part due to the effective contracts that are in place to produce the buildings as well their design, explains Cindy James, delivery team manager for the Ministry of Education.

“We can actually build these really quickly and with proven performance in the OMB design, it means we’re not reinventing the wheel every time – there’s a uniformity to them that provides efficiency without compromising on quality.”

Creating the best space for students

The uniformity of the basic structure does not mean that the buildings can’t be tailored to suit the needs of the school. For example, Raglan Area School wanted connectivity with their moana, informed by their cultural narrative. The delivery team were able to accommodate this with the site selection and the use of larger windows with etchings that faced out toward their moana.

“Two different iwi support Raglan Area School, and their input influenced the placement of the classrooms and its focus on the moana. It was just one of the ways we could use the OMBs to support connection with their land and sea,” says Cindy.

For WVSS their input as to site selection was important. They wanted something that would cater for the additional needs of ākonga.

“The majority of the students in this class are on the autism spectrum, so noise impacts on anxiety levels. This is an area away from the rest of the school, but it’s all within walking distance.”

The OMBs come in a variety of sizes and configurations, ranging from smaller single teaching spaces to larger buildings that can accommodate four teaching spaces.
The size of the classrooms provides plenty of opportunity to develop flexible work areas.

“They’re quite large. They are 83 square metre classrooms and when I look at some of our older classrooms in the school, they sort of range from about 54 square metres to about 65 or 70 square metres. So, they’re quite spacious,” says Wayne.

Outdoor areas surrounding the classroom add to teaching space.

Outdoor areas surrounding the classroom add to teaching space.

Flexible design

Schools can choose what will go into the space and how it can operate to best fit their needs.

There are a number of layout options to suit various teaching styles. They can be easily adapted to support current teaching and learning activities or any future changes in practice.

Wayne says the configuration they have allows for a lot of flexibility.

“They’re multipurpose, so we’ve got dividing doors, glass doors between each of the rooms. There are double doors that can open. So, you could combine classes or dual teach if you needed to.”

The ability to combine classes easily when required is a feature that Mangatawhiri School enjoys.

“Having a modern learning environment like this means that we can come together as two classes, so we collaboratively plan and teach the mat times together. But it also means that we can move apart and group our children accordingly and teach to different strengths and learning needs as well,” says kaiako Lorelle Dodds.

This flexibility has also been very beneficial for WVSS.

“The students can go and work individually in workstations as there is enough space to do that. There’s space at the back to do the hard tech. It’s not within the class. For children with autism, having defined spaces is so important. They know what to expect and where to go to. We’re getting fewer incident reports which shows me that they are really comfortable in the space, and so that speaks volumes for us,” says Natalie.

Colour schemes can be personalised to reflect school culture.

Colour schemes can be personalised to reflect school culture.

Robust and modern

The buildings are constructed to a high level of quality and are fully insulated with lots of natural light.

Cindy explains these are good, robust modern classrooms with all the bells and whistles. The quality and design are comparable to a bespoke build, but without the longer build period and disruption to the school.

“The lighting is adjustable to enable the ideal light settings for the classroom, and CO2 monitors help to indicate when the windows should be open to allow for additional ventilation.”

Wayne encourages schools to learn more about OMBs as there is a lot of support to make the process as easy as possible.

“You get to know the people [the project/delivery managers] and they’ve got a really good feel for the school, what we’re about and what we were trying to achieve. They worked really hard on our behalf to get what we needed.”

For more information about OMBs, visit education.govt.nz/school(external link).

OMBs were able to be shipped to Great Barrier.

OMBs were able to be shipped to Great Barrier.

OMBs support remote areas

The community of Aotea Great Barrier Island are also seeing the benefits of offsite manufactured buildings, with new permanent classrooms installed and ready to use at the new Aotea Learning Hub.

The flat-packed building was transported by barge from Auckland to Great Barrier Island in January this year. The hub had been operating from a leased building since February 2017.

Aotea Learning Hub was established after discussions with the community about how best to provide for secondary school students on the island. While boarding school is an option for secondary students, there is a group of young people who remain on the island and carry out their schooling via Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu, with a wraparound of pastoral support, and two days per week of secondary-tertiary opportunities and/or work experience and training.

The hub provides academic and e-learning support and connectivity, transition and careers support, mentoring, external exam facilitation, and communication with whānau.

The new fit-for-purpose hub is on the Kaitoke School grounds but will operate independently. Delivery manager Linda Van Zyl says the project was a huge success and overcame several delivery and access challenges. The fact that the community relies heavily on rainwater and solar power (electricity is scarce on Great Barrier Island) also had to be factored in.

Read more about schools on Great Barrier Island in recent Education Gazette article, ‘Managing a pandemic in a remote community’.(external link)

OMBs can be transported to any location.

OMBs can be transported to any location.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:35 AM, 21 July 2022

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts