Realising the value of HE refurbishments

Tony Cahill, executive director at Vivark, tells us how sustainability can drive real value on any refurbishment project

We are all looking to maximise value in the delivery of a construction project, and if we were to consider following the route of a new building on a campus, our minds would run away with us.

Thoughts would turn to the unique building design we’d create, the BREEAM rating we’d want to achieve, how we’d maximise light and minimise solar gain and use environmental energy systems and sustainable features in abundance.  

But do we consider these things when we follow the refurbishment route? All too often we don’t. Sustainability isn’t reserved for the multi-million pound new build schemes. Sustainability can drive real value on any refurbishment project, however small.

Designing sustainability

Refurbishing educational buildings to meet current needs can have lower capital costs than a new build, with a much-reduced environmental impact, whilst still delivering ongoing energy efficiencies and reduced maintenance costs.

The first key is to build flexibility into the refurbishment design to ensure that it not only meets the needs of today, but can be easily adapted to meet the changing shape of teaching methods and academic disciplines of tomorrow. Designing spaces to be adaptable to these changing needs or to seize opportunities for creating the right environment for students ‘the paying customer’ is fundamental.

High-efficiency glazing systems and energy efficient environmental heating and cooling systems can be installed as part of the refurbishment project, fitting around a structural design suitable for future remodelling at a lower cost than it would have otherwise been.

Assessment of the ‘whole life cost’ of the assets selected for the refurbishment is also crucial. Whether it’s assets that have a longer lifespan, reduced maintenance costs, reduced frequency or a lower disposal cost etc, careful consideration at the design stage can ensure best value is delivered in the long term.

The physical methods required to undertake the maintenance of assets is another area of consideration; if designing a space results in high costs to access the asset, all the value driven at the refurbishment stage can be lost very quickly.

Waste management

Site waste management plans (SWMPs) can provide a real focus on reducing environmental impact during a refurbishment, but they can also add value through reducing costs – less waste results in less landfill costs. A BRE¹ audit identified that 95% of waste from the refurbishment of two university buildings could be recycled or sold – reducing costs even further.

SWMPs were introduced as a legal requirement for refurbishment projects greater than £300,000 from 2008, but this was scrapped by the Government in 2013, despite construction waste having been cut by a third² since the legislation came into effect. Despite the plans not being a legal requirement, reputable contractors continue to use them as they can demonstrate best practice. SWMP models are also available for small projects below £300,000 and if your current contractor doesn’t use them at present, insist on it and see the benefits.

Social value

“The recognition and understanding of the social impact that can be created through undertaking a refurbishment project is still limited, in particular for smaller refurbishment projects. Also, there is often a misconception that specifying a requirement to deliver social value as part of a short duration project will lead to increased costs.

Delivering social value doesn’t have to increase costs; it’s about a way of thinking how services can be delivered and the decisions a contractor makes when it undertakes the work, rather than an increased range of activities.

That can mean working with materials suppliers local to the project, creating local employment opportunities (even short term) either directly or through their supply chains, which should also include small local businesses. Ensuring contractors are signed up to deliver minimum training and apprenticeship levels on an ongoing basis and ensuring all contractors pay a ‘living wage’ as the lower floor, ensures fair and equitable earnings for everyone involved. Community-based support undertaken during the period of works can also drive additional value. But social value will only truly be delivered if it forms one of the key success measures at the end of a contract.

Sustainability in refurbishment can drive added value, but it takes foresight and commitment to achieve it.

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