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As our population increases the problem facing School Builders is how to balance the needs of a growing population with a finite amount of space.

With the UK’s growing population schools are finding it increasingly difficult to accommodate the growth in the birth rate, with some areas facing a 25% increase in primary school place requirements. This will obviously translate in a few years to a similar stretch on Secondary schools. In Barking, East London, alone an expected 8,000 extra places will be needed by 2015 and this is a pattern being seen across the country.

There is no doubt, new schools throughout the country will have to be built, or at the very least, existing ones adapted to meet this growing need. But when you are building in a conservation area these needs to build and develop space are often juxtaposed with the needs of English Heritage and other bodies to preserve the look, lay and feel of the surrounding area.

Chris Mitchell, Director at AWW Architects, says ”Heritage cities are under increasing pressure to provide spaces for the needs of their growing populations and Architects are having to work ever more closely with town planners and English Heritage to find new ways of integrating designs so that they complement the surrounding areas. The need is to find new ways to adapt designs so that they can still provide the top of the range services and technologies that schools, pupils and LEAs have come to expect but in a manner that belies their modernity.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Many areas are dealing with an unprecedented rise in primary numbers – back up to levels last seen in the 1970s.

No-one is saying it will be easy balancing demand for places with retaining the sort of character and ethos that parents want.”

It was these concerns over the need to marry the demands of growing populations and the drive to keep communities and cities alive without driving out young families has led the World Heritage Committee and UNESCO to publish new guidelines on how to approach the needs of cities trying to integrate urban heritage conservation into strategies of socio-economic development.

So how do school builders bring together these differing goals in a cost efficient and effective manner?

“Schools are at the heart of any community and as such design teams need to be embracing collaboration and input from stakeholders at an early stage. Getting community buy in and agreement from the get go helps minimise planning difficulties further along.” Chris Mitchell commented.

“Designing any type of building in a conservation area brings exciting and unique challenges. Local sensitivities and expectations have to be carefully managed through listening and engaging with all of the key stakeholders, including the local authority. We actively encourage a continual dialogue and look to explain our ideas through models and 3D visualisations. This positive early engagement helps to demystify the design process and has proven to be successful on sensitive sites throughout the country.”

A spokesman from English Heritage says, “English Heritage understands the need for school buildings to continue to adapt and evolve to reflect the changing needs of 21st century students and teaching staff. Early engagement with historic environment specialists on refurbishment and remodelling projects can go a long way towards ensuring positive outcomes and that historic school buildings continue to offer well equipped and characterful learning environments.”