Examining how to build adaptable learning environments that effectively serve Australia and it’s growing population as well as meeting the needs of students and teachers, the fourth annual School Planning, Design & Construction Conference is fast approaching. In the lead up to this not–to-be missed Conference, we spoke to David Asteraki, Director, Infrastructure Finance, ACT Government to better understand his insight on school planning in Australia.
What are the key challenges in effectively and promptly delivering classroom spaces?
The main challenge for all Governments is managing conflicting priorities for capital works within their overall fiscal constraints: weighing up the relative merits of new schools, new hospitals, new roads, etc.; and weighing up these against current spending on social services, etc. These challenges are particularly acute in the ACT, as we are seeing cumulative growth in pupil numbers of around 4% p.a. – some 1,800 new pupils each year. This growth is occurring largely in new suburbs in the north and west of the ACT. In contrast, we have schools in Tuggeranong in the south that have surplus capacity.
Over the past few years, we have worked hard to ensure that our internal processes are as efficient as possible. We now have a rigorous process for developing business cases for new schools and school expansions (The Capital Framework), which means Cabinet can make a fully informed decision on the need for each project and its cost, without delay. We also have improved how we deliver schools projects, to ensure that they open on time, which we achieved very successfully for the start of this school year.
Looking toward the future, how do you think Governments can plan and ensure that classrooms are available when and where they are needed?
We have devoted substantial resources in the last few years to improving the quality of our demographic projections in the face of major challenges. There have been noticeable shifts towards:
- families living in apartments close to major centres of employment and entertainment
- parents moving their children out of private high schools into the public system
- parents wanting their children to go to schools near their places of employment, rather than their homes, including parents who live outside the ACT but work within it.
These shifts, which have contributed to the rapid growth in pupil numbers I mentioned earlier, have complicated the task of projecting demand accurately, but we have been successful so far. These more robust demographic projections then help us obtain the budget approvals we need to deliver new capacity when we need it.
Could you provide an insight into how the ACT Government can manage financial risk when delivering school infrastructure projects?
One of the key processes of The Capital Framework is determining the most appropriate procurement and delivery model for a project: the model that is most likely to result in the best value for money. We have made widespread and successful use of the GC21 Design & Construct contract, which we borrowed from NSW. The Design & Construct model puts much more risk on the contractor than our previous delivery models, greatly improving our financial risk position.
In addition, we are focusing increasingly on whole-of-life costs, and recently opened our first school procured under a Design-Construct-Maintain contract. Under this contract, the contractor bears full maintenance responsibility for a minimum five-year period, avoiding any debates about responsibility for defects.
We also are looking at the potential to bundle schools projects together, to reduce overall procurement and mobilisation costs, and to allow the contractor to determine the most efficient programme for delivering them, though this initiative is still in development.
You are speaking at the School Planning Design and Construction conference – What are you most looking forward to at the event?
I am most looking forward to comparing notes with my colleagues in other jurisdictions to see how they are managing their similar challenges.
The fourth annual School Planning, Design & Construction Conference will be held on the 22nd – 23rd of May 2018 at the Rendezvous Hotel Melbourne. This Conference will discuss pressing issues in building and planning learning spaces for future generations. Register Now.