School redevelopment: Ensuring that phase zero does not become a planning trap

School redevelopment: Ensuring that phase zero does not become a planning trap

Whether the renovation of a school will result in a functional educational building or a structural disaster with enormous cost increases is usually decided at the beginning of planning, in the so-called phase zero. In this phase, the school management and the school authorities usually develop a new learning and building concept with the help of a planning office. However, there is a fundamental lack of technical knowledge about the actual condition of the building as well as a qualified room programme. Both are indispensable for sensible planning.

Introduce phase zero "In order to avoid unexpected cost increases in the renovation of school buildings as much as possible, we believe it is necessary to change the usual procedure in the so-called phase zero," explains Andreas Schlote, managing partner of REC Partners GmbH, which is involved in the planning and implementation of numerous school renovations. "It must first be a matter of developing an ideal space programme, which incidentally will also include the consequences of the Corona epidemic in the future, and also of recording the structural deficiencies and finding out what the existing building is even capable of. Those who have no idea of the structural and technical conditions will inevitably experience unpleasant surprises and cost increases during implementation." Involving the relevant experts in phase zero from the beginning therefore means more and more reliable planning security.

Qualified space programmes are lackingThe "ideal" space programme should be developed independently of the existing school building. This involves much more than defining a certain number of rooms in a certain size range. "We see in many cases that when we are subsequently involved in the implementation of refurbishment measures, a qualified room programme is almost consistently missing," Schlote knows. "Yet this is one of the most important prerequisites for sensible architectural planning, as it specifies the spatial organisation requirements that do not simply take the given structures of the existing building for granted, but adapt them to the requirements of today and tomorrow."

Most school buildings in need of renovation have already been around for many decades. In terms of room layout and technical possibilities, the vast majority of them do not meet today's requirements for a modern educational facility. It is easy to understand that the technical analysis of the building should also be at the beginning of the planning process. Of course, the building fabric must also meet the requirements of statics or fire protection, for example. "Only then should an architect sensibly try to transfer the developed space programme into the building," Schlote knows. "Then the costs and implementation time can be reliably estimated and a safe basis for a decision can be prepared for the politicians. In some cases, this can also reveal that demolition and new construction is the best solution."

Involvement of expertsTo date, school administrators have developed ideas for a coherent learning and building concept together with the school authorities, parents and pupils, mainly in workshops, which can, however, fail spectacularly in the implementation phase. "Because phase zero is ended too early," Schlote knows. "At the end of phase zero, there must be a qualitative and cost comparison of variants, between different renovation variants and an ideal new building. These comparisons require a very high level of expertise, which is almost consistently not provided in the third-party results we have looked at so far." This means that those responsible in municipalities and schools need to rethink the design of Phase Zero and involve experts in spatial concepts and technical evaluation in the planning process at an early stage. Then a "Good School" can succeed, with which all stakeholders and users are satisfied in the end. It is a mistake to believe that a well-run Phase Zero, as is currently practised, can save costs in the construction phase and in later operation.