Creating 1,244 new school places in Bedford
Our education experts have created a 'mega school' outside Bedford featuring a new primary school, nursery and secondary academy in Wixams.
The inspiring Wixams Academy is an example of how good collaboration between a developer, a local authority, Scape Procure, Lungfish Architects and Willmott Dixon can create over 1,200 new school places.
The Academy is the centrepiece for the huge new Wixams community being created three miles south of Bedford that covers approximately 384 hectares. This location will eventually attract a community of around 10,000 people and is the single largest development in the county.
Creating the right infrastructure for this is essential, and a part of this means new school places!
Willmott Dixon was procured for the task by Bedford Borough Council via the Scape National Major Works framework and this was the first Education Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) funded school to be delivered outside of their own framework.
Using Willmott Dixon was a logical step for the authority, as the company has provided around 5,000 school places for Bedford Borough Council through Scape Group and its subsidiaries since 2011.
Wixams Academy being built
Understanding the challenges
The plan was for an 824-place secondary school with a science and technology specialism. Along with a contribution by the developer Gallagher as part of a Section 106 agreement, it was to be funded by Bedford Borough Council and the ESFA.
However, some challenges were immediately apparent. There was an initial funding shortfall, while stringent ESFA space and specification requirements also needed to be met and with the Agency's rates low, meeting its output specification within the budget provided was challenging.
There was also a very tight programme from start to finish: the feasibility stage was completed in January 2016, the planning application needed to be submitted just four months later, to enable work to start on site in September that year and the school needed to be handed over in September 2017, ready for the first intake of students.
Wixams Academy offers enviable modern facilities to ensure all pupils have the most inspiring and up-to-date educational experience possible, including:
- Specialist science laboratories
- Music room and recording studio
- High-tech computing labs
- Creative design studio
- Large open plan learning resource centre
- Sports hall
- Multi-use games areas
- Sixth Form Centre and much, much more
Both schools are based in the new Wixams settlement, 3 miles south of Bedford which covers an area of approximately 384 hectares.
Based on the site of the former Elstow Storage Depot, it will eventually establish a community of around 10,000 people with the potential to expand to around 15,000. It will represent the single largest development in the county and straddles the border between Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire.
Supporting the school’s needs
Alongside Lungfish, Willmott Dixon worked closely with the school from the start, developing genuinely great relationships and tremendous good will on all sides. By talking and working together, the team could deliver the best possible school within the budget and space constraints.
The Academy's principal, Paul Spyropoulos, said; "I want to thank all the team; Scape, Willmott Dixon, Lungfish and Bedford Borough Council," he said. "They all really wanted to do the best for our children and that was lovely. We have a beautiful building and a lot of pride in it from all quarters. The students love it, the staff feel very lucky to have it and the parents love it too."
Meeting the tight budget and programme
A critical part of meeting the handover deadline was the submission of a planning application with minimal pre-commencement conditions to ensure that there were no hold-ups.
With just four months from completing the feasibility stage to submitting the application, committed collaboration was vital, with Willmott Dixon’s preconstruction team working closely with Lungfish and the council’s project managers. A hallmark was accommodating budget constraints and stringent ESFA specifications without compromising quality.
A partnering approach with mutual trust enabled the know-how to jointly reach robust solutions. Regular face-to-face meetings meant decisions could be made quickly to keep the programme on track.
The £20 million Academy, at the heart of the new Wixams development, is an inspiring educational facility for local young people, with a dedicated sixth form centre and specialist science laboratories; music room and recording studio; high-tech computing labs; creative design studio; large open plan learning resource centre; sports hall; and multi-use games areas.
"The high quality building facilitates excellent teaching and learning", commented Councillor Henry Vann "and it is exactly the kind of school environment that local young people told us they want."
The school opened on time, on budget and defect free, with handover of the ground floor in September 2017 allowing the first intake of students to start their term. The 1st and 2nd floors were handed over in December 2017 as part of a phased programme, with careful planning ensuring no intrusion and no lost education time whilst work was completed.
Paul Spyropoulos said, "The collaboration made the Academy a massive success; the quality is beautiful."
- Part of work to enhance schools across Bedford
- 420 place primary school
- 824 place Technical Academy for science, maths & tech
- Schools at heart of new community
- Opened September 2017
Willmott Dixon House, 80 Wilbury Way, Hitchin, Herts
Tel: 01462 442200
Fax: 01462 442204