Move believed to make firm the first housebuilder to join race to make low-cost schools

Persimmon has developed a low-cost standardised school model, in a move that is believed to make it the first housebuilder to enter the race to drive down the cost of school buildings.

Persimmon, which is working with architect Stride Treglown and contractor ISG on its concept, is pushing to link standardised schools to its housing developments. The move will pitch it head to head with construction firms trying to cut the cost of school buildings through standardisation.

A growing list of contractors including Willmott Dixon, Wates and Laing O’Rourke are developing standardised designs in response to the government’s demand to cut about 30% off the cost of building schools.

This week, Interserve became the latest firm to launch a scheme, signing a £13.65m deal to build an academy in Leeds using its “Podsolve” concept, using a pod structure that Interserve claims can cut overall build costs by 25%. The cost per m2 is £1,370, assuming a normal site with clear access, compared with £1,617 under academies framework rates.

Persimmon’s design - a two form entry primary that costs £3m and takes 40 weeks to deliver - has evolved from schools that it has previously built as part of its section 106 obligations. However, it is now offering to replace run-down schools in areas where section 106 agreements do not require it to build new schools, as a means to enable development.

Persimmon divisional chief executive David Thornton said: “Recently we have been approached by education authorities that heard about what we have delivered in their areas under section 106, and asked if we could facilitate the replacement of schools in poor condition in their area.”

Thornton acknowledged that he had encountered reservations about school development led by a housebuilder. He said: “There has been a considerable degree of suspicion. But we’re finding that if people are interested enough to go and see one of our previous schools, they realise it’s of a pretty high standard.”

Thornton added that Persimmon is in talks over schools projects on six sites, having already delivered seven based on the model since 2000. He said: “We have been building no more than one a year, but we are targeting four next year. If we deliver enough scale, we think we can deliver further cost savings of about 10%”.

He said: “The buildings are modular, but every school is different as it has input from the local authority. We’ve approached them like standardised housing: where we can standardise aspects, we do.”

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