To bring you this report CourtHeath was on location again this year for the annual Victorian Education Infrastructure Industry briefing, organised by the Victorian School Building Authority.
Opening the session, Minister for Education James Merlino explained that the budget commitment to open 100 new schools over the next eight years heralds a new approach to long-term reform. For the first time ever, there will be a certain and consistent pipeline that extends planning for new schools much further into the future. This has far-reaching implications for how schools and new suburbs are planned.
The 2019-20 budget investment in schools is a record-breaking $1.8 billion (up from $1.5 billion last year – also a record- and an annual average over the past five years of $1.1 billion).
The mission is not just to expand, but to modernise. Upgrades make a huge difference to the school community as the Minister heard from a year 7 student at Redcliffs Secondary College: “This school makes it easy to learn."
Whilst the investment in schools is huge and having a long-term planning pipeline is a breakthrough, the biggest reform is to the early learning sector. With a progressive rollout of universal three-year old kindergarten over the next 10 years to 15 hours per week, Victoria needs to build or expand almost 1000 kindergartens, doubling the size of the early learning system. Associated investment in teaching and facilities is nearly $5 billion. Early learning centres will be built next to all new Primary schools from 2021.
The Minister noted that today’s students are likely to have four or five different careers and 17 different jobs so they need the technology and skills to reach their full potential. Outside the family, quality teaching makes the biggest difference to children – to match the best teaching – quality built learning environments are being created.
The Minister described this as the quiet revolution, highlighting the need to keep the momentum on track and promising to keep the construction industry busy!
Stuart Moseley, CEO, Victorian Planning Authority
Expanding on the theme of long-term planning for new schools, the second presentation of the day was from the Chief Executive of the Victorian Planning Authority, Stuart Moseley.
Emphasising that the VSBA and the VPA need to work closely in the long-term planning for schools, he mentioned the challenge of lining up the school building pipeline with population growth. Still Australia’s fastest growing state, Victoria is predicted to grow to 10.1m by 2051, 7.9m in Melbourne and 2.2m in regional areas.
Mr Moseley explained the role of the VPA is in planning, especially in growth areas. In the creation of new communities, he said that schools are one of the key building blocks that the population enjoys. Community attitudes to growth are influenced by whether the services and infrastructure are there to support it – in green fields developments, the key things people look for are schools, local shops and transport (a proxy for jobs). From the VPA’s point of view, it’s not just about numbers but about the quality of the places we create and putting schools with compatible facilities in a walkable catchment to provide a hub with facilities for sporting, recreation, meetings, voting etc.
The VPA has a set of standards about the metrics for planning for government schools and private schools (which account for about one third of enrolments).
Mr Moseley explained how the VPA develops a Precinct Structure Plan to help guide the creation of quality spaces and how the planning process follows. He mentioned the potential for negotiation with developers to have land for schools made available earlier and more cheaply, as well as the Growth Area Infrastructure Contribution (GAIC) Work-in- Kind (WIK) approach.
According to the VPA’s website:
- The Growth Areas Infrastructure Contribution (GAIC) is a charge designed to contribute to the funding of essential State infrastructure in Melbourne’s growth areas.
- An entity liable to pay a GAIC can, by agreement with the government, offset part or all of its liability by providing land or infrastructure works to the State, or a combination of land and works. This is known as Work-in-Kind or WIK.
There has been a net saving of $5 million to government from negotiating five of these and there are six more in the pipeline. Through this process, school land can be secured earlier and cheaper than would otherwise be the case. Schools are the building blocks of new communities and they help sell real estate! With this in mind, and the GAIC WIK process there is great scope for VSBA to negotiate with developers.
Ideally, schools should open ahead of advancing growth – while people don’t necessarily expect schools to be there in the new estate when they move in, they don’t expect to wait for five years either. Mr Moseley suggested the possibility that schools could be opened earlier through modular construction.
In urban renewal areas, a greater focus will be on putting more schools on less land. Facilities will be shared for other uses, with adaptable buildings suited to other community activities when they are not required for schools.
Jess Trinder, Executive Director – Strategy Reform and Operations, VSBA
Expanding upon the early childhood initiatives introduced by the Minister, Ms Trinder explained how the sector differs from the government school sector being market-led and involving a combination of council-run, privately operated and not-for-profit run services including some kindergartens in long-day care facilities. She explained how the $1.68 billion capital funding would be allocated including through grants and some VSBA-led projects.
Some recent revisions to the VSBA Building Quality Standards Handbook (BQSH) were explained and the 2019 BQSH edition was launched, now available online. The changes reflect feedback provided to VSBA and cover areas including:
- Safety balustrades
- Non-combustible cladding
- Lead-free plumbing
- Service engineering
- Diversity and inclusion (for example, the Aboriginal inclusion strategy requires all new buildings and significant upgrades to reflect Aboriginal culture and there is a process in each local area to advise how this is to be done – also there will be three flagpoles on new schools)
- Requirements about play equipment and activation spaces.
Funding was outlined for relocatable buildings, compliance programs, accessible buildings and the inclusive schools program. Asset management reform was explained and that there would be new data requirements flowing from the asset information management system implementation currently in procurement.
Some of the major whole of Victorian government procurement rules were mentioned with a special note that consultants running tenders on behalf of the VSBA need to ensure that these are complied with:
- New Ministerial Directions – as a result of this consultants will see more procurements through the VSBA Technical Advice Panel (TAP) and more forward notices for construction works on the tenders website, Buying for Victoria.
- Social Procurement Framework
- Local Jobs First (incorporating VIPP and Major Projects Skills Guarantee).
Over the next 12 months, VSBA intends to work on:
- Climate Change Act adaptation plan
- Mechanical engineering in BQSH
- CAD standards.
Tom Kirkland, Executive Director – Delivery, VSBA
Saying that VSBA is “good busy”, Mr Kirkland reflected on improvements in performance over the past 12 months, which included the:
- greatest number of projects completed in one year
- largest ever annual spend
- smallest carry forward
- least number of late projects, with 9 out of 10 running on time.
Mr Kirkland expects the VSBA’s engagement with industry to continue to be positive noting there are significant fees being paid and that the VSBA has high expectations in return. The VSBA is actively looking for ways to accelerate design without compromising output, particularly to decrease the time between schematic and detailed design.
Mr Kirkland flagged some planned changes:
- VSBA is keen to reduce any unnecessary Requests for Information (RFI) on projects.
- The safety in design program needs consultants to critically challenge at design gates on safety in design.
- VSBA is looking for ways to accelerate design without compromising output.
- There is a focus on thermal comfort and energy performance especially in the vertical schools environment.
- VSBA plans to split the Principal Design Consultant (PDC) role from that of superintendent and project management. VSBA may do the contract administration role in-house or engage an external PM for aggregated projects. Mr Kirkland said that this split would remove what he described as a conflict of interest sitting with the PDCs to manage the design whilst representing the State’s interest through the build program.
- A new standard reporting format will be issued for monthly reporting on the data that VSBA needs to capture that goes to the Minister's Office monthly.
The VSBA values design kudos and does not use straight template design. When selecting consultants, the VSBA looks for firms registered on CSR and TAP who the VSBA believes can do the job. They are then considered for depth of firm, strength of last jobs with DET, experience understanding education, affinity for pressure points at school level, dealing with parameters the VSBA sets, understanding of the environment, level of innovation you bring to the job, from walk through school site and meeting school leadership team, ability to connect with stakeholders.
IMAGE: Used under licence from shutterstock.com