Changing the landscape

A local authority-controlled company has teamed up with Warwickshire County Council to deliver the UK’s first “Sunesis” school.

January saw work start on the UK’s first “Sunesis” school.

Sunesis is a joint venture between builder Willmott Dixon and Scape, a Nottingham-based local authority-controlled company that works to drive down building procurement costs for the public sector. It aims to deliver standard whole building designs at a fixed price. The initiative was launched last year to meet the Government’s “more for less” agenda and could reduce the cost of a new primary or secondary school by as much as 30 per cent.

Warwickshire County Council approved the tailormade Sunesis concept to replace the infant/foundation stage of Oakfield Primary School in Rugby, which was built in the 1950s and is now over-capacity.

A £2.2m standardised design called Keynes has been purchased and work began on installing it in the week commencing 23 January.

The fast-track construction programme is scheduled to be completed in time for the start of the new academic year in September.

Flexibility in the design means optional extras, such as an internal sliding wall,
play equipment, furniture or a canopy, can be incorporated as needed.

Scape chief executive, Mark Robinson, says: “Cost certainty in the current climate is critical for local authorities as budgets are being cut and more needs to be delivered for less. That’s where Scape really adds value, quite literally. Through Sunesis, we’re enabling our clients to cut out a huge amount of waste so that projects can be produced and delivered very quickly at an extremely competitive price.”

Estimates indicate that from the scheme’s inception last July to completion later this year, 26 weeks will be saved in the overall programme compared with the traditional approach of designing a bespoke school and tendering for a contractor.

Councillor Colin Hayfield, portfolio holder for customers, access and physical assets at Warwickshire County Council, says speed of delivery and cost-effectiveness were the main benefits of using Scape.

“Through Sunesis, we’ve been able to cut out fees associated with legal issues, feasibility studies, design and time spent at planning and procurement meetings.

We could therefore afford a new additional building, rather than a small extension.

There’s no other comparable product that can deliver a fully designed school to meet the fast-track programme we need,” he explains.

Heather Fielding, head teacher at Oakfield, says: “From the beginning of this project, the Scape and Willmott Dixon teams have listened to our needs and ideas, before thoughtfully adapting these into a design that accommodates the particular challenges of our site. We’ve been very impressed by their enthusiasm, high level of organisation, planning and ability to focus successfully on the solution rather than the problem.”

Oakfield Primary School is the first Sunesis project to go live and several other councils have approached Scape to express their interest in using the model. Sunesis is available to public sector clients via Scape’s National Contractor Framework, to which Willmott Dixon was re-appointed in 2010 as the sole contractor following a competitive tender process.

The full Sunesis range includes three other standardised school designs (Newton, Paxton and Dewey) aimed at primary schools. Another model, Mondrian, is available for secondary schools. They can be viewed online at along with details of standard prices, optional extras and green design features aimed at reducing running costs.

Peter Owen, managing director for Willmott Dixon in the Midlands and sector leader for education, says: “This is a tremendous moment in the delivery of a new generation of efficient schools that provide an excellent learning environment but at significantly lower cost. This is about Willmott Dixon and Scape providing a real solution to councils who want their budgets, already under much pressure, to go even further.”

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