A concrete example

The benefits of pre-cast concrete became evident during the construction of the country’s first university training school in Birmingham

Created to provide education for a growing number of young people while training new generations of teachers, university training schools are part of the UK’s increasing focus on school building. Funded directly by the Department for Education, these university-run secondary schools see trainee teachers mentored by fully qualified staff from universities that have received ‘outstanding’ ratings for their quality of teacher training.

Due to open in 2015, the University of Birmingham School – based in the city’s Selly Oak district – is the country’s first university training school to offer secondary education and will provide free education for up to 1,150 pupils.

Having completed work on site, Bison Manufacturing’s sales and commercial manager, Mike Nelson, believes that the advantages of using precast concrete in the school’s construction and the benefits that the material can provide to other projects in the education sector are clear. “For any project, meeting deadlines is an essential part of the construction process,” he says, “but this is especially true in the education sector, where work must be completed in time for the beginning of a new academic year. As providers of a key early-stage component, precast concrete manufacturers often have to work alongside both the main contractor and other trades on site in order to maximise efficiency.”

The University of Birmingham School’s main contractor, Willmott Dixon, involved Bison in consultations from the project’s early stages, specifying the use of 8,700 square metres of Bison’s Hollowcore flooring slabs and 30 cubic metres of precast stairs. Chosen for their reduced deadweight and structural efficiency, Hollowcore units also offer good acoustic properties, making them ideal for schools, where noise transfer can cause disruption to neighbouring teaching spaces.

In addition to the timescales involved, further challenges were created by the site’s dimensions. Due to its large footprint, the school occupies most of the available land, calling for an alternative method to be employed when delivering and installing the precast units.

By installing the units in vertical sections, working out towards the edges of the site, it was possible to overcome these restrictions. With staircases added at the beginning and end of each sequence, allowing other trades on site to continue work as each section is installed, the flooring units act as working platforms.

Manufactured under factory-controlled conditions and carefully inspected before being sent to site, precast units aren’t affected by adverse weather conditions or temperature, allowing them to be put in place by trained installers upon arrival. Innovations such as cast-in lifting hooks can bring added safety benefits, offering quicker installation without compromising the safety of workers while reducing the risk of damage to components and bearings.

This dedication to quality control also allows precast manufacturers to meet a school’s aesthetic requirements, as was the case on this project. Due to the design calling for no additional surface treatment to be added to the staircases after installation, each unit had to be finished to a suitably high standard, a feat which is far easier to accomplish in a factory than when using wet trades on site.

Streamlining the construction process without sacrificing quality, offsite production played a key role in the construction of Birmingham University School, demonstrating the benefits that precast concrete can offer to a wide range of projects. 


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