The following is a transcription of an interview taken 14/10/15 regarding the creation of a facility in a school in regional Victoria.
How do you remember the project was conceived?
Leadership Team Member:
There was a clearly identified gap in the schools facilities, an indoor gym/basketball court, as well as an undercover/indoor facility that the whole school could gather in. So the first desire was for a space that could cover this need.
At the same time the school site is very tight in terms of space, so for anything like this to happen we knew some buildings would have to go. At this point we still had a portable building on site that housed the school’s music department, which also sat adjacent to the old outdoor sports courts, so it seemed obvious to try to include a more permanent music facility in the project.
Happening at the time was strong school growth in terms of student numbers and growth in a new program, Allied Health, that we didn’t have a purpose-built facility for. We knew the federal government was running a grants program for Trade Skills Centres, and knew that this was one of the recognised trades that grants could be available for, so thought we might as well try to include this in the project too. The strong student population growth also led to us needing more General Purpose Learning Area (GPLA) space, so wanted to include at least 2 GPLA’s in the build as well.
All of this seemed like a bit of a crazy mix, but due to the Principal at the time not being afraid of taking a risk and always striving to keep the school moving forward, she thought why not try to get it done.
So I guess the conception of the idea to try to get this project up and running, came from an identified need in a few varied areas, as well as a Principal that was prepared to take chances and who was always looking to create the most modern and up to date learning areas for the students.
How was the process led and managed?
Leadership Team Member:
In the initial stages of Grant Applications and Architect engagement, the Principal led the way in terms of taking charge and ensuring deadlines, etc. were met. She also engaged the relevant staff at appropriate times of the early design process to ensure that the various ‘parts’ of the building were going to meet the demands identified in the question above.
Once the building project was underway, the Principal deferred the day-to-day management of the project to myself, a member of the school’s Leadership Team. This meant that I would have daily briefings, often quite informal, with the Site Foreman (Aaron), and also regular phone conversations with the Architect. The fortnightly Site Meetings (on site) were attended by the Principal and myself, as she still needed to sign off on any formal decision or changes to the design. Also in attendance were the Architects, the Building Contractor and the Site Foreman. The Architects were the formal ‘Project Managers’ so this meant that any decisions or formal requests that would lead to a change in the design needed to be passed through them. They also ran the Site Meetings and had control over when payments to the Building Contractor where due. The Architect did this Project Management from off-site, so phone conversations and emails were heavily utilised. At the conclusion of the Site Meetings, the group would conduct a Site Walk to check progress and ensure the building was matching the design.
How did you go about dealing with exterior pressures and design constraints?
Leadership Team Member:
There were four main areas that we identified that might fall under that categorisation.
Council – When you ask any local in our area, our Local Council is notoriously difficult to deal with. Initially we found that they were very keen to help us make sure this process was smooth, however, it didn’t take long for us to hit a roadblock. One person who works at the Council had an issue with how vehicles would access the site and their signature was required to approve the Building Permit. No other member of the Council’s Building Approval team had this issue, including local Councillors who toured the proposed site. We were advised to go ahead with the project and that the permit would be issued in due course. The Council did not receive one complaint about the vehicle traffic, nor did they once tour the site once it was in action, however, it took until the project was almost complete for us to attain the completed permit.
Neighbours: We have a small number of neighbours that live adjacent to our property that can be upset with how the school operates. To negate this, we held an open information session for our neighbours before the project started to brief them on what our plan was and when, how long, etc. we anticipated the build to go for. This seemed to work in our favour and was reflected on favourably by the neighbours. We didn’t receive one objection to the proposal and were able to work with our neighbours during the build to ensure they knew where the project was up to and when any activities that might impact on them might have occurred.
Heritage: As the school is located in a Heritage Zoned area and the proposed building would include a fairly large amount of street frontage, as well as sitting next to our 128-year-old buildings, we knew this could be a difficult part of the planning and building application process.
Our architect, Matt, had the brilliant idea to do some research on the local heritage approval officer from the Shire to find out who she was and who some of the other people she had worked with were so he could get a sense of where she stood on a number of issues. Once he had done this, he engaged the services of a Heritage Consultant whom he knew had worked closely with the local Heritage Officer on numerous occasions. This consultant was able to provide us with advice on the design that she was fairly confident would then be accepted by the local officer. This turned out to be true and we faced no hardships or delays in terms of getting the planning application through the Shire due to heritage concerns.
Funding: Any government funding application is a drawn out and demanding process. The complexity in this project was that we were trying to get funding from two different sources to complete one project. This is not something that was historically easy and did create some headaches for the school. Included in this was a change of Federal Government, so that slowed the process for one of the funding applications somewhat. This meant that we actually started the project without one the funding sources being formally approved. We had been told we had nothing to be concerned about, however, until the official paperwork came through this was a testing time.
Could you talk a bit about the work that occurred within groups and teams?
Leadership Team Member:
Initially in the design phase, relevant staff were engaged to ensure that specific learning areas were going to meet the needs of the intended learning. Teachers from the PE, Music and Allied Health fields particularly were engaged to ensure their teaching spaces would meet their needs.
The group of people that were most heavily involved in the project was made up of the Principal, myself, the Architects, the Building Contractor and the Site Foreman. This group had a very good working relationship and was able to negotiate, discuss, disagree and decide on key decisions in a very respectful and positive way. This did get tested as the project drew to near its conclusion. There were some errors in product identification and ordering that meant the product used as the indoor and outdoor court surface was not ordered in time nor the contractor engaged early enough for this to be completed before the official opening of the building. In hindsight, this was poorly handled by the architect and building contractor as they both didn’t want to take any responsibility for this mistake and both tended to blame each other. It was here that myself and the Principal had to step in to create a sense of urgency and also a way forward so that the official opening could still go ahead. This did leave a bitter taste for all of us at the end of the project, but once the building was completed, we were all able to acknowledge what a fantastic space it was and that it was actually better than we could have imagined.