Education facilities: the lessons learnt

Photo: Supplied by the Department of Basic Education

Photo: Supplied by the Department of Basic Education

Most of us went to a school made of bricks and mortar, which — to our young minds — had been there forever and would never change. Even today, the same school buildings are found in every township across the country. 

But modern construction technologies can deliver schools more quickly and cheaply than building with bricks and mortar, helping us overcome the backlogs that persist, especially in our rural areas. They can provide schools that go up faster, last longer, have better temperature control, and are cheaper too. 

For this reason, the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Com-mission (PICC) is working with the departments of basic education and public works as well as the provincial departments of education to develop and roll out new kinds of school buildings. 

These new buildings use modern technologies that combine steel frames and modular systems to improve quality and increase efficiency. 

This type of building, known variously as innovative building technology (IBT), modern building technology and advanced building technology, is used widely across the world because of its ease and speed of construction. It will let us provide schools to our children in record time. 

The PICC has set specific targets for the introduction of schools to be built using these techniques with 60 schools being built this way. 

The new buildings form part of the PICC’s National Infrastructure Plan, which includes a school building programme as well as a vast expansion in universities and colleges across the country. 

To implement the plan, the departments of public works and basic education developed a programme to fast-track the replacement of mud schools and the refurbishment of existing schools. For the 2014/5 financial year, the government has budgeted R10-billion for this purpose. 

In the 2013/14 year, government has built 48 new provincial schools and by June 2014, 77 new schools  replacing mud schools, had been built, mainly in the Eastern Cape. The targets for the 2014/15 financial year are 96 new provincial schools, and 148 Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative schools are at different stages of implementation.

Meeting the ambitious targets for improving school buildings requires that we think out of the box, but also that we test any innovations carefully before going to full scale.The new school buildings were piloted in 2011 by the Independent Development Trust, which built 12 schools and evaluated the efficacy of the innovative techniques.

The pilot schools project showed an average saving of 43% over conventional construction, while improving the quality of buildings and reducing the time needed for construction. In Hammanskraal, north of Tshwane, the contractor confirmed that construction with the new methods cut the time needed in half compared to conventional building technology. 

Two of the new schools — the Setumo Secondary School and Myra Primary School in the North West — were opened in July 2012. Says Setumo (now Rekgaratlile High School) school principal Mr Monamudi, in Stella: “IBT is a good structure relative to prefabricated structures; it is clean and solid. Previously we had to endure extreme temperatures in the old structures, but the new technology is good.” The school hosts 349 grade 8 to 12 learners and consists of 12 classrooms, an administration block, staff room, and offices. There are four rooms for a library, a media centre, computer and science laboratory still to be furnished.

At Myra Primary School in Taung, school principal Mr Mokota reports that: “It took six months to build the new structures, which are more robust and suitable to a learning environment. In winter we don’t have to use electricity to warm up the classrooms with heaters, like we had to do with the old structures.” The school has 440 Grade R to Grade 7 learners and has 11 classrooms, an administration block, a nutrition room, a science laboratory, a library, a computer room, and a multi-purpose room.

The criteria for evaluating the pilots included the time needed for construction; the cost; the ease of maintenance; the job creation potential, especially for local unskilled persons; and compliance with the various building standards — the National Building Regulations, South African National Standards, National Home Builder Registration Council, and Agrément South Africa. 

In terms of local economic growth and job creation, the innovative construction methods are equal to the conventional approaches, especially where construction materials are procured primarily from local suppliers. 

The delivery of construction materials was easier than would have been the case with bricks and mortar — an important consideration in rural areas in particular.

A further major gain was in terms of thermal efficiency, with the new buildings out-performing conventional schools. 

Now, the focus is on the first 60 schools using new technologies in the school-build programme. The key first step has been to develop norms and standards for the procurement process for the new school buildings. 

To date, the PICC has developed: 

• Guidelines to assist procurement officers to prepare and adjudicate tenders for the new kinds of buildings; 

• Norms and standards to advise potential builders on the level of service required; 

• A decision-making tool to assist project managers and procurement officers in their selection of the most appropriate performance criteria and the adjudication of tendered systems; 

• Revised appointment conditions for professional service agreements; and 

• Revised building contract conditions that include the certificate holder.

The Freedom Charter promised that the doors of learning would be open to all. In the near future, thousands of our children will be seeing modern doors in new and improved school buildings as we work together to make this key commitment a reality for all of our people. 

Lizelle Geeringh is a Policy Analyst at the PICC

This article is part of a larger supplement which you can find here. This supplement has been paid for and its contents supplied and signed off by KPMG and its partners