“The secret to a healthy team spirit, I have discovered, is a shared vested interest”
Quentin Shears, 48, is a partner at Hertfordshire quantity surveyor Fearful & Bald. He is currently undergoing anger management therapy following a heated dispute with a project architect over the cladding specification on Buntingford leisure centre. Criminal proceedings were dropped by the architect after he conceded that the inclusion of solid gold tiling in the designs was intended to “provoke a strong reaction”. As part of Quentin’s therapy, he has been encouraged to “work through” his feelings by writing a diary, which he has kindly agreed to share with Building.
I begin the week in high spirits, for today brings a meeting of east Hertfordshire’s Building Tomorrow’s Children Brighter Futures Today (BTCBFT) consortium to discuss the impending transformation of Grimston high school into the academy@grimston. This is that rarest of phenomena in the construction game: a truly collaborative effort.
The secret to a healthy team spirit, I have discovered, is a shared vested interest. In the case of the academy@grimston team, many of us live locally and have children of our own – and it is our mission to make sure that none of them ever set foot in the place.
The aim therefore is to produce a scheme with so much educational bling that it will prove irresistible to the more easily dazzled parents within the catchment area of the local temple of learning, St Aloysius. This is some 13,856 places above Grimston in the league tables and permanently over-subscribed. We haven’t spent the past few years pretending to be Catholic to be thwarted now.
So on this particular project, architects, engineers, QSs and contractors are as one. The architect’s design manifesto (“The school as metropolitan workspace”) may once have caused some muttering at the back, but this time we’re singing from the same hymn sheet like shiny-faced choristers at an Edwardian prep school. Regardless of our straitened times, there will be curtain-walled classrooms, break-out areas for children to network, and latte dispensers in the canteen. And the bike shed will be lime green with hot pink feature walls, even if I have to paint the damn thing myself.
All of which means the meeting rolls along merrily. Whereas usually I sit in what I like to think of as my Cowell pose (one arm slung behind chair, pen pressed to lip, eyebrow on standby to rise archly at the more outré material specifications), today I’m hunched forward, smiling eagerly, like Michael Parkinson interviewing a young Helen Mirren. Even the mention of public art in the entrance foyer fails to rile me.
Despite some minor quibbling over whether or not a geodesic dome is the appropriate solution for the new geography block, I leave early enough to pick up my son Jeremy from school. I climb into the car in good heart, almost convinced of the transformational effects that an inspiring learning environment can have on the nation’s youth. If it’s hard exactly to have a spring in one’s step while driving a Ford Mondeo through rush-hour traffic, there is certainly a jaunty aspect to my clutch control.
Sadly, I’m in for a rude awakening. What I had forgotten is that, as clients go, children are such ungrateful little – really, these people are worse than Tesco. As soon as I walk into Jeremy’s primary school, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer lack of respect for efficient, coherent, well-costed design. The place is literally swarming with these diminutive end users: to my left, a lightweight partition wall is being kicked heartily by one, while to my right the heavy-traffic nylon carpeting is proving no match for the vomitous urges of another. And I can’t help but notice that there appear to be bite marks in several of the door frames.
Buildings are wasted on these people.
As seen by Nick Jones