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A real point of difference for Rototuna is the shared spaces across the junior and senior schools, including a central library

Raising the bar
for school builds

Strengthening the curriculum to equip learners for the increasingly digitalised workplace and society has been a priority for the Ministry of Education, and leading the industry in progressive, forward-thinking construction of schools is Arrow International.

Technology has greatly transformed the school classroom over the years, and along with education’s entry into the digital age come sweeping advancements in school construction. Arrow International’s most recent project, Rototuna Junior and Senior High Schools, is the largest build of a New Zealand school in more than 30 years, and has just scooped a major industry award for Arrow’s project manager, Tony Kavanagh.


Arrow International’s Tony Kavanagh: “The biggest lesson was how fast a well-managed collaborative team can move on a $68 million build when you are doing the design and construction simultaneously”


Situated in Rototuna, Hamilton, the school has a floor area of close to 20,000 sq m, constructed over two levels on a 25 acre greenfield site. The success of the project, which was completed in eight phases over two-and-a-half years ending in June this year, depended on Arrow International’s productive collaboration with the school’s administrators, the Ministry of Education (MoE), design engineers Opus, NZCEL and Aurecon Group, and architectural firm Jasmax.
 
Costing around $68 million to build, the Rototuna schools are leading the way in New Zealand education, where primary and secondary facilities are increasingly designed as innovative learning environments, or ILEs. Key features of the schools include large open-plan learning spaces and the absence of a bell to mark periods.
 

Ground-breaking project

From the start, Mr Kavanagh says, the project was ground-
breaking. “We’ve worked a lot with the MoE over the years and they ran an open tender process for the Rototuna project. Our success in winning the bid was partly on what we showed we could save in time and money by proposing to undertake the school foundations using a different methodology to the piling solution set out in the concept design. Instead, we preloaded the ground, and while we waited for that to settle we worked with Jasmax and engineers on the design of the junior school.”
 
By any measure, the project proceeded remarkably fast for its size and complexity. Arrow International made the first cut for the preload in December 2014, and the junior school opened to its 634 students on day one of the 2016 school year. The senior school opened in January this year, welcoming an initial 100 students, and the final stage, the gymnasium, was completed in June as a joint venture between the MoE and Hamilton City Council. The schools have the capacity for up to 2000 students in total, with further provision made at design stage to extend the senior high school to allow a further 500 students.
 
Mr Kavanagh says the project had its challenging moments. “We agreed the timelines with the MoE and were conscious of the potential impact on various parties if the November 2015 deadline for the junior school was not met. However, we knew with our methodology it was doable, and we had confidence in ourselves and the wider design team, even if I have some more grey hair now!” he laughs.
 
“The biggest lesson was how fast a well-managed collaborative team can move on a $68 million build when you are doing the design and construction simultaneously – we went from breaking ground to having a full, operational junior school in just over a year.”
 

Trends in school construction

What does the story of Rototuna tell us about trends in school construction in other cities and regions? Mr Kavanagh says every project teaches you something for the next. “By the time we were working on the senior school, there were only seven of us from Arrow onsite, which for a job that size is pretty good going, but we could get it done faster and with fewer people because we had the junior school experience to draw on,” he notes.
 
“From a construction point of view, we had to fit a big job into a tight timeframe, so we were thinking out of the square to meet the time and quality objectives. We had an extremely good, young quantity surveyor and site managers, with one member starting the project as a site manager and finished it as a project manager, while another was able to complete his cadetship during the course of the project. In addition to what we achieved on the build itself, it was a great opportunity to bring out the best in the people who worked on the project.”
 
About his recognition by the 2017 NZIOB Awards for Excellence, which gave Mr Kavanagh the Hilti Projects $50–$75 Million Award, he says, “It was unexpected! I’m a builder by trade, so to be recognised and appreciated by my peers is humbling. There’s no way anyone on that team could have done that job unless all the others pulled their weight, so the team couldn’t be happier – this award belongs to all of us.”
 

Integrated spaces

Andrew Grant, associate principal of architecture firm Jasmax, says the initial concept work and preliminary design had been completed by the time Jasmax joined the project, and his team’s role was to integrate many of the site’s main spaces.
 
“We improved the orientation of some courtyard elements and brought together the two theatres, the gymnasiums and the central library so there are greater synergies between the junior and senior schools. This is a real point of difference for Rototuna, creating greater opportunities for the older and younger students to mix in these shared spaces, with more cross-fertilisation of ideas and activities.”
 
Kim Shannon, MoE’s head of education infrastructure services, says a school’s physical environment plays an important part in supporting the success of its students, and Rototuna reflects that.
The Ministry of Education aims to gradually transition school property so that all learning environments will be safe, inspiring and ICT-enabled

“Teaching and learning practices have changed since the majority of our schools were built in the 20-year period between the 1950s and 1970s. We want schools to be able to encourage and support many different types of teaching and learning. Our aim is to gradually transition school property so that all learning environments will be safe, inspiring and ICT-enabled,” she says.
 
“Flexible learning spaces (the property component of an innovative learning environment) can evolve and adapt as educational practices change, and allow schools to remain future-focused. This reflects the fact that education needs to keep pace with the world we are preparing young people for.”


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